Meet Jerry Hickfang, Milton resident and all-around good guy. Sure, he can be a little odd but he’s kind and friendly, holds down a steady job and is always willing to offer a helping hand. He also hears voices when he forgets to take his pills, one of which, his creepy cat Mr Whiskers, encourages him to engage in a spot of serial killing. Don’t worry if it sounds like The Voices has wandered off into typical horror territory. It hasn’t. Marjane Satrapi’s largely unclassifiable film shrugs off tags like it shifts tone.
Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) is a confused and often hyper child trapped in a man’s body. Inheriting his mother’s mental illness, he chats away with his friendly dog Bosco and less than friendly cat (both voiced by Reynolds). Things are looking up with Lisa from finance (Anna Kendrick) clearly smitten by Jerry, and Fiona (Gemma Arterton) happy to go on a date with him. That is until a traffic accident gets a little out of hand and before you know it, he’s stuck with a severed head in the fridge and his pets fighting for his soul.
The first half plays out as an inspired dark comedy. Reynolds is mesmeric as Jerry, capturing the manic joy and childish glee inside him. He’s strange enough to draw laughs from awkward pauses and bizarre non-sequiturs without overplaying Jerry as a cartoon character. In fact, he’s the perfect man for Michael R. Perry’s oddball screenplay.
Energy courses through the film, supported by Satrapi’s visual flair. Her Milton is a place of bright pink overalls, Chinese rock and roll singers and a series of unexpectedly bloody events ringed with a jet black edge. The conversations Jerry has with his pets are as funny as they are X-rated while his interactions with those around him, particularly Fiona, Lisa and his psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver), are surreal with a hint of accidental menace.
Unfortunately, after a flying start The Voices begins to alter in tone with distressing regularity. What started out as a dark comedy just becomes dark. Horror finds itself the prevailing mood alongside family drama and the difficulties that living with mental illness brings. Satrapi ensures the film continues to look good but the wicked sense of humour fades, reducing enjoyment.
After a disturbing tour de force for half a film, The Voices find itself weighed down by the repeated shifts in tone. Not even Reynolds and a foul-mouthed cat can reverse the damage. As everything comes to a close, Jerry launches into a hilarious song and dance number that serves to remind what could have been. The Voices is ambitious, creative and highly entertaining at times. It’s just not as good as it dared to suggest it might be.