Throwback Thursday Movie Review: Ryan Reynolds in The Voices
By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)
Ryan Reynolds has been in comedies and romantic movies for quite some time. He played Green Lantern (and crucify me if you want, but I didn’t hate it), then he moved on to be the Merc with the Mouth, Deadpool. But one particular piece of work most people aren’t familiar with were his roles (yes, plural) in the 2015 film, The Voices.
Written by Michael R. Perry and directed by Marjane Satrapi (in her first English-speaking film), The Voices follows Jerry Hickfang’s (Ryan Reynolds) unfortunate fall into madness. Jerry lives above a bowling alley with his cat, Mr. Whiskers, and his dog, Bosco (both voiced by Reynolds himself). His closest companions, the animals offer him advice when he needs it most, for better or for worse. Meanwhile, Jerry works in packaging and shipping at a warehouse, and he’s got a bit of a crush on an office hottie, Fiona (Gemma Arterton). After following his psychiatrist’s advice, he asks Fiona out on a date. She stands up him, and the downward spiral of violence and death begins, and all the while Jerry is also endearingly apologetic and just trying to be a good man. How many severed heads in the fridge before Jerry realizes that the world isn’t sunny and beautiful? And maybe the deaths aren’t really accidents, and maybe he’s not good?
After that summary, you’re probably thinking that The Voices is a depressing film, full of blood and gore, death and destruction – a horror film you don’t want to watch in the dark. While it IS rated R, the film isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, it could probably be best classified as a “black comedy.” You’ll feel for Jerry, even as the blade falls again and again. You’ll laugh at his pets’ commentary, even though they reveal the mind of a deeply disturbed man. You’ll smile, even though you know you really shouldn’t. Because Jerry’s world is bright and wonderful, even when things are horribly wrong.
The ingenuity of this film really comes down to this contrast between reality and the world as Jerry sees it. Imagine the bright color schemes of a movie like Hairspray. Got it? That’s how Jerry sees the world. It’s fun. It’s lively. And the whole world is his oyster. He is happy (like the “Happy Song” you’ll hear in the film that is ridiculously catchy and addictive) and free. Even though he regularly sees a psychiatrist, that doesn’t stand in his way because his mental illness allows him to see the world as something better than what it is. What can be wrong when everything is so great? Jerry sees himself as a good man. He tries. But for the audience, what a shock to see a life taken in such a bright and wonderful world. It becomes all the more unsettling to see the aftermath of death when the surroundings are entirely contradictory. Director Satrapi goes even further, showing us the reality of Jerry’s illness through medicated Jerry and other characters. It is the stark contrast that makes the whole thing feel a little surreal. If we take the journey with Jerry and other characters in discovering reality, we find ourselves also at a loss. We understand Jerry a little more. We empathize. We stand in his shoes and see how something that looks evil from the outside might look completely different to someone who cannot comprehend what they’ve done. They are literally unable to distinguish reality from fiction, and therefore find themselves struggling to follow the moral compass toward good.
While appealing to our forbidden humor, The Voices also gets at to the heart of mental illness. It is safe to assume that Jerry as a character is a man with a form of schizophrenia. Not only does he hear voices that are figments of his imagination, but his whole world is a happier and more charming version of the real thing. When Jerry takes his prescribed medications, reality hits like a ton of bricks. Where his world was once vibrant and alive, he finds that he’s been living in squalor. The real world is bloody and full of darkness, and all those friendly companion voices are gone, leaving him with only himself and the truth of what he has done. They say ignorance is bliss, and it is not hard to understand why Jerry immediately flushes his pills away. If we could choose, with just a pill, whether our world was sad, lonely, and black, or full of color and light, which would we choose?
While there are plenty of talented folks on the roster for The Voices, such as Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton, Ella Smith, and Jacki Weaver, Ryan Reynolds was absolutely brilliant; a shining star! I haven’t seen every role he’s ever done, but I’m fairly confident that his work as Jerry/Bosco/Mr. Whiskers/deer/Bunny Monkey is a unique addition to his resume. And in my opinion, his role(s) in The Voices might very well be his peak performance, the best showcase of his abilities recorded on film thus far. Everyone can lose their minds about the Oscar-snubs for Deadpool, but I think the Academy really missed out on a gem with The Voices.
In a darkly comedic film like The Voices, there is a ridiculously thin line to walk. Go off on either side and it can be campy and unbelievable, or unwatchable and senselessly morbid. Reynolds walked the line with grace. He was able to play Jerry as sweet and awkward, naïve and oblivious to the dangers his mental illness presents, even when surrounded by a dismembered corpse sealed away in plastic containers. Killing sweet young ladies from his workplace, Reynolds somehow managed to convey his loss and sadness at the act, the genuine disbelief that his hands were the ones committing terrible acts of violence. When Reynolds pleads, “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” while repeatedly stabbing someone, we believe that he is truly appalled at the events, just as we are! And as the truth begins to sink in, we can see the character he portrays struggling with the reality of life and the consequences of his actions. Through his interactions with Bosco and Mr. Whiskers, we can appreciate the conflict within as bodies pile up (neatly in containers).
Reynolds’ performance doesn’t end with the man, Jerry Hickfang. Originally, Satrapi was going to cast voice actors for the parts of the dog, cat, deer, etc. However, Reynolds changed the director’s mind by reading the parts himself in different ways in a voicemail to the director. Reynolds explained that if the animals (and other characters) were just voices in Jerry’s mind, then it would make sense that they would all be derivatives of his own voice. After listening, Satrapi had no doubt that Reynolds had the talent to do the job. So we learn that not only is Reynolds a force to be reckoned with on-screen, he is also extremely talented in voice acting. As you listen to the heckling from Mr. Whiskers in a Scottish brogue, and the long drawl of lovable Bosco, you’ll find that Reynolds has withdrawn himself completely from the characters and created each to be distinct and recognizable, fully representing the different sides of Jerry’s fragmented mind. Dog and cat act a bit as the proverbial “angel” and “devil” on the shoulders of Jerry. When I first saw the movie in 2015, I didn’t know anything about the film except what I had seen in the promotional trailer. It wasn’t until halfway through the movie that I realized that it was indeed Ryan Reynolds’ voice coming from the mouths of animals. A testament to his talent, The Voices is the intriguing movie it is partly because of the abilities of Ryan Reynolds. He carries the film on his back and makes it a must-see, especially for those who love films that are just a bit off-kilter and odd.
Fair warning, I freely admit that The Voices isn’t for everyone. It wasn’t a mainstream release for a reason. It won’t be universally loved like a rousing superhero film or Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. But if you’re willing to venture into the weird and take a trip down the rabbit hole, try it. If you missed The Voices the first time around when it was limitedly released on video on demand and in a handful of theaters in 2015, track down the Lionsgate film now and give it a go. I promise you, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.