Film explores mental illness through dark comedy, talking animals

by Andy Weston

In the new film, “The Voices”, Ryan Reynolds plays a small town factory worker named Jerry. All seems well with Jerry at first; he’s a nice, humble guy who does his job with a smile on his face and pines over the attractive English girl in accounting.

Though everything seems calm on the surface (a bit too calm perhaps), there is clearly something not quite right about Jerry.

The audience’s first clue is given when Jerry is seen talking to his pets, a dog named Bosco and a cat named Mr. Whiskers. Talking to your pets isn’t weird in itself, but when your pets talk back, there begins to be a problem.

While Bosco is a lethargic and well-meaning companion who helps to build Jerry’s confidence, Mr. Whiskers is an ever-present devil whispering into his ear. The voices he hears become the catalyst for the events that play out during the rest of the film.

The movie is a mix of both pitch-black comedy and uncomfortable moments of shock and horror. It’s an interesting approach that puts the viewer into an uneasy state. They never know how to feel at any given moment about what they’re seeing, much like the lead character himself.

The serious topic of mental illness, specifically depression and schizophrenia, is presented in interesting ways in “The Voices.”

There is a moment when Jerry decides to take medication for the first time in a long time, and the viewer is transported out of Jerry’s world and back into reality. The first time we see what the world really looks like is terrifying and upsetting. This presentation is done to mirror that of the illnesses in question and is well realized by director Marjane Satrapi.

Satrapi is best known for her directorial debut, “Persepolis.” Similar to that film, she is able to perfectly capture the emotions of the lead character, and make the viewer feel as though they are experiencing everything along with him.

But none of this character-driven story would have worked without a great ensemble cast to bring it to life, including a number of supporting female characters that are well-developed and acted.

Gemma Arterton is Fiona, the office worker that Jerry has a crush on. Arterton plays the character well, making her come off as snide while still allowing for a bit of sympathy and understanding.

Jacki Weaver plays Jerry’s psychologist and is something of a guiding light. Weaver is in her element as a motherly figure who provides Jerry with a voice of reason while he is trapped in a sea of chaos.

The main female character is a co-worker named Lisa, who has a thing for Jerry but is continually passed over for Fiona. Lisa is played by Anna Kendrick, whose girl-next-door sensibilities are on display in order to show a life that Jerry could have if he could only find a way to manage his illness. Kendrick does a wonderful job of being likable and giving us someone to root for during Jerry’s struggle.

Though the supporting cast is great, the main draw here is Ryan Reynolds. With a career that has been dotted with failed blockbusters and animated flops, it may be hard for some viewers to take him seriously.

Although known for comedy, Reynolds has done a number of independent films during the course of his career that have shown him to be a great dramatic actor as well. His talents for comedy and drama are used here to great effect.

Jerry is an aloof but likable character, and Reynolds plays up his quirky and socially awkward traits perfectly. There is clearly something amiss about Jerry; the way that Reynolds is able to channel something reminiscent of Norman Bates makes it readily apparent from the start.

On top of playing the complex role of Jerry, Reynolds also does the voices of Mr. Whiskers and Bosco, his talking furry companions. He does a good job of giving them distinct personalities without ever making them so over the top that it pulls you out of the film.

There is a scene in which Jerry is in a room talking to his dog, his cat and a disembodied head. It’s at this point viewers realize it is just Reynolds sitting in a room alone, acting by himself, and it dawns on you how great his performance really is.

With its dark humor and sudden shift into the disturbing, along with an ending that is both hilarious and confounding, “The Voices” might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Although it could have delved even deeper into the concept of Jerry’s illness, it succeeds at giving its viewer a look into the mind of the man who suffers from it.

“The Voices” is available now via On Demand and VUDU.

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