While his choice of projects sometimes leaves much to be desired it is still necessary to admire Ryan Reynolds’ approach to his work, for there are few actors who are so utterly open to any proposal, be it romantic comedy, action film, horror, drama, superhero, leading role, ensemble piece, or uncredited cameo, the versatility he displays and the dedication he brings to his roles meaning he is often the best thing in some fairly wretched projects.
So infuriated was ostensible leading man Wesley Snipes over the final cut of Blade: Trinity that he allegedly sued the producers for favouring his co-stars Reynolds and Jessica Biel over him, and it undeniable that Reynolds stole the film. Yet even having said that, The Voices is something else again, possibly the least commercial film Reynolds has been involved in, and that for a man whose resume includes being Buried alive to deliver a suffocating ninety minute near-solo performance.
Despite campaigns to bring mental illness into the spotlight of public awareness and discussion, it has traditionally been dealt with in films in the horror genre (Psycho, The Haunting, Repulsion) and more recently Academy Award winning drama (A Beautiful Mind, Silver Linings Playbook), but a comedy so black it makes Heathers appear a fluffy romantic comedy is a step Hollywood is not yet willing to take; despite the presence of Tinseltown regulars Reynolds and Anna Kendrick The Voices is not truly even an American film, with location and studio filming taking place in Berlin under the supervision of French/Iranian director Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) from a script by Michael R Perry (American Gothic, Millennium).
In Milton, “town of industry,” population 4,554, Jerry Hickfang (Reynolds) works for Milton Fixtures and Faucets International, packing bathtubs and shifting them around the warehouse with his shocking pink forklift truck. Asked to help organise the staff party, his reticence is overcome by the information that the accounting department will be represented on the committee by “that cute English chick,” Fiona (Gemma Arterton of Byzantium and Hansel andGretel: Witch Hunters).
With an unrequited crush on Fiona, oblivious to her disinterest and the equally obvious flirting of her colleague Lisa (Kendrick), Jerry seeks counsel on how to approach her from his state-appointed psychiatrist Doctor Warren (Academy Award nominated Jacki Weaver of Animal Kingdom and Stoker, no stranger to supporting troubled individuals having played Bradley Cooper’s mother in Silver Linings Playbook) who is distressed to learn that Jerry has stopped taking his antipsychotic medication, a violation of the conditions of his release into the community.
Nor is Doctor Warren the only person who has a strong opinion on who Jerry should date or whether he should be taking his pills. Also offering unsolicited and contradictory advice are Bosco, Jerry’s loyal and loving dog, and Mr Whiskers, his misanthropic and conniving cat who speaks in a dour Scots accent and is determined that murder is the only route to satisfaction and happiness for Jerry, both of them voiced unrecognisably by Reynolds.
With some scenes consciously filmed like a horror film but with the overriding colourful surrealism of The Young Poisoner’s Handbook, The Voices is surprisingly grim and bloody for a mainstream release, Doctor Doolittle taking a bad trip, Walter Mitty with a bonesaw, a stack of Tupperwares of human flesh and a fridge full of overly chatty decapitated heads, yet the real nightmare is the one Jerry has already lived through, his childhood with an abusive father and severely depressed and delusional mother.
While cinema has tackled (exploited?) many ailments and terminal conditions, mental illness remains largely taboo and there are some who may feel that to approach it through comedy, especially one which indicates that patients are more fun and confident when refusing their medication, is irresponsible. Certainly the film is not for everyone nor will those who do enjoy it find it exempt from criticism, the narrative meandering as though unsure how best to wrap itself up without condoning the killings or taking punitive action against Jerry for the results of the illness which has blighted his life, though partial redemption is offered by the gloriously tasteless end credits which confirm, if there was any doubt, that The Voices should never be taken seriously.
The Voices is now on general release and is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 27th July