Ryan Reynolds is a hot property again after years of mediocrity and some big budget failures. In particular he is famed for comic book character Deadpool that really could be said to have reinvigorated his career. This is interesting in itself as Reynolds had two other big comic book movie failures, RIPD and the almost iconic in its awfulness, Green Lantern. Deadpool (2016) put him back on the map with its dark comedy and bloody violence. But I’m here to argue Deadpool wasn’t what started Reynolds’s Renaissance, it all started with Marjane Satrapi’s The Voices (2014).
The Voices is a bizarre black comedy about Jerry (Reynolds), who has a traumatic past and can hear his cat Mr. Whiskers and dog Bosco talking to him. Which isn’t too bad until the cat gets him to kill people, cut them up and put their heads in the fridge and the heads talk too. This film is brilliantly bonkers.
Now I realize on paper that The Voices sounds bizarre and doesn’t sound too much like Deadpool but please bear with me. Deadpool is about a man who cannot be killed after being given an experimental cure for his terminal cancer. He then goes for revenge by cutting up bad guys. Whilst I’m not going to compare them completely I think you’ll start seeing little glimmers.
The first of these is the soundtrack and music cues. The Voices uses a lot of bizarre kitschy music choices to enhance the gruesome whimsy of it all. In one particular moment where Jerry is alone a song comes on the radio, which sounds like it was sung on a children’s show. It makes the situation seem very off kilter and really highlights Jerry’s skewed perception. In particular the movie has a recurring motif- “Sing a Happy Song”, we hear it played in the film during a conga sequence and then is repeated at the end in a bizarre credits sequence that I promise I’ll get back to.
As well as being a fantastic director Marjane Satrapi is a comic book writer/artist famed for Persepolis. This is interesting to note when you are looking at the comeback of Reynolds and his lead up to taking his most successful comic book role. As mentioned earlier his forays into the pages of comics were fraught to say the least and he had mainly done some very different films probably to get away from that. So The Voices seems like a bizarre blip on his CV but as I see it as no coincidence that Satrapi managed to get a performance out of him that was so bizarre and perfect for comic books. In a way the film itself would have made a good comic book; there’s lots of action and fantastic use of colour that really pops as if it is from a 60s style comic.
A lot of the styling has this real retro, uber saturated, bright and vibrant theme to it. The factory Jerry works at makes them all wear pink boiler suits, Fiona (Gemma Arterton) wears bright pink lipstick that only gets brighter after her death, and Jerry wears bright yellow to murder her. The film bursts with colour that pops in a way not many comedy horrors do. It looks more Napoleon Dynamite than Friday the 13th .
Reynolds himself is brilliant as the quietly strange Jerry and amps it up with such aplomb that you feel both sorry for him and very unsettled. It really is a performance that whilst not as foul mouthed or vicious as Deadpool really showed that after X-Men Origins: Wolverine he could bring in the goods.
What makes The Voices such a gem isn’t just its bizarre quirks, violence and good performances. It’s the contributions of the main actresses Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick. They both play women in the office who end up dating Jerry. What’s interesting about this is in life they are both sweet, quite meek and ask a lot of questions. Jerry idolizes Fiona to a point where he kills her and in death she finally gets a personality she’s foulmouthed and controlling and far more fun after her grisly death. Kendrick’s Lisa simpers through life, she’s bubbly and caring and then she pretty blindly agrees to everything Fiona says and she never disagrees. She basically becomes trapped as just a perky talking head with no real opinion of her own. It’s odd and uncomfortable just like the rest of this film.
The final scene of The Voices is bleak and nasty and capped off with a completely bonkers song and dance routine to “Sing a happy song”, reuniting Jerry with his troubled family and his victims to which he apologizes and they gleefully accept and then they all dance with Jesus. If you are thinking this is kind of like the weird end sequence of Deadpool with that drawn unicorn you wouldn’t be wrong, it has that twisted whimsy that The Voices did so well. The film ends on bright colours and a song and Mr. Whiskers and Bosco announcing that despite their differences they do get on. It’s a bizarre idealized children’s show style sending to a bizarre but very grown-up film.
In fact I’d say the biggest thing the two have in common is their scrappiness. Deadpool famously has a slashed budget and Deadpool 2 wasn’t exactly flash on cash- to voice Juggernaut and create him they just used Reynolds and his voice. That reminds me of how Reynolds is the voice of the cat and the dog in this movie. Deadpool and The Voices both feel quite lean, aren’t over stuffed (not in the way Deadpool 2 occasionally felt that way) and they both do exactly what they set out to do. There’s no big side stories or massive tangents they just tell their respective stories.
Satrapi’s work in the film is extraordinary and its her direction that lifts it from a standard horror to a dark comedic masterpiece. The shot composition and bright colours mixed with the subject matter are so uneasy and utterly unforgettable. She brought out a fantastic performance and set a stage for a fantastic actor comeback and she should not be forgotten in all this. She has a new film entitled Radioactive about the life of Marie Curie and I cannot wait for her to bring her strange whimsical spin to it.
In particular though I think this movie proved what fans had known for a while that Reynolds had both the comedic clout and that ability to act unhinged that made him the perfect Deadpool. The Voices may have been mostly forgotten and unfairly maligned but that doesn’t mean it should have been and if you are a fan of Reynolds now it’s a great film to look back on and see where his new found profane and violent fun started!
By Boo A-C