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Voices, The

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // April 7, 2015
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted April 13, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Voices is a strange movie to begin with, but what's really strange is who's behind the camera. Marjane Satrapi isn't some gun-for-hire: she scored an Academy Award nomination as the co-director (with Vincent Parronaud) of Persepolis, an animated adaptation of her own graphic novel. After a four-year gap, she and Parronaud reteamed on a second adaptation of her work, this time in live-action, Chicken With Plums, before Satrapi struck out on her own, directing a French feature called The Gang of the Jotas (no US release, as far as I can tell), before coming to America to do The Voices. When I first heard that she'd directed a bizarre black comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Anna Kendrick, I was instantly intrigued. What kind of material is she drawn to that isn't her own? Sadly, The Voices doesn't provide much of an answer.

The Voices follows Jerry (Reynolds), an insistently cheery warehouse worker at a toilet manufacturing company. When his friendly boss picks him as the person from the warehouse to help organize the office's yearly barbecue, Jerry is pleased, but he becomes ecstatic when he sees Fiona (Gemma Arterton) is also on the committee, a gorgeous British woman working in the accounting department. Jerry literally sees butterflies dancing around Fiona as she dances in a conga line of her own creation, because he's a little cracked: an abusive home and mentally broken mother have led Jerry to create a world inside his head. His closest companions are his dog, Bosco and cat Mr. Whiskers, both of whom talk to him like an angel and devil on his shoulders (both voiced by Reynolds). Despite weekly meetings to a court-appointed psychoanalyst (Jacki Weaver), Jerry's visions persist, leading him slowly but surely down a twisted and violent path, one which also threatens to ensnare Fiona's accounting co-worker Lisa (Anna Kendrick), who actually has an unrequited crush on Jerry.

The Voices is certainly a dark comedy, in which a cat swears at Ryan Reynolds in a Scottish brogue about wanting to be fed, and a dismembered head inside the fridge begs for a companion. Every once in awhile, one of these jokes connects, through Reynolds' cheery demeanor in the face of gruesome violence, or just a plain old well-written one-liner. Unfortunately, these details are just sort of jumbled in amid a thematic mishmash of ideas that doesn't seem to add up to anything. For the first 40 minutes or so, there's the sense that we're supposed to empathize with Jerry, perhaps because of his troubled upbringing, or his clear desire to do the right thing, even if he frequently fails. Yet, the screenplay by Michael R. Perry never actually gives us a reason to care about Jerry. It's not enough that he wants to do the right thing, and it seems as if the filmmakers even agree: when Jerry tries to blame one murder on his cat, the victim's severed head reminds Jerry that the cat was nowhere near the scene of the crime.

About two-thirds of the way through, Jerry commits another crime, and this one is painted as less comedic. The film appears to switch sides, rooting for Jerry's unwitting target to survive, and when the worst happens, it seems as if maybe the movie is changing perspectives in order to make a comment on Jerry's behavior. Sadly, Satrapi switches right back to the comedy, which continues to limp along in search of an actual target. Given her history as a graphic novelist, Satrapi certainly infuses the movie with a stylish set of visuals, both in overall aesthetic and in the framing of some gruesome shots (the scene where Jerry hacks up his first body is particularly similar to the panels of a comic book). Yet, her influence appears to end there, with the film's dreamlike atmosphere never really developing into something that ties into whatever the movie is trying to say.

The film's cast acquits themselves nicely, turning in good performances despite the aimless chaos going on around them. In addition to Reynolds playing Jerry's animal companions, the women in Jerry's life are all given slight dual roles as well, both as Jerry's fantasy versions of them, always encouraging and positive, in addition to their actual selves. Of them, Anna Kendrick makes the strongest impression, playing a quiet loner who might be perfect for Jerry if he weren't completely crazy. She is both charming and heartbreaking, possessing a certain innocence without seeming naive or plain. Weaver also gets a very strong dramatic scene near the climax, talking to Jerry about his many problems under particularly difficult circumstances. The fact that so many of these pieces provide something interesting or compelling makes the ultimate failure of The Voices that much more frustrating. By the time the film draws to a close with little more than a half-hearted shrug, it's disappointingly clear that the voices were never saying much of interest to begin with.

The Blu-ray
The Voices comes in a matte slipcover with spot gloss for the title, credits, and image of Reynolds and his two pets. The image hints effectively at the film's darkness with Reynolds' crooked smile and a hint of blood, but is a little simplistic. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is an insert with an UltraViolet Digital Copy code on it.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 2.39:1 1080p AVC, Satrapi's vivid pastel colors look wonderful on Lionsgate's Blu-ray edition, popping with a vibrant, heightened crispness. Dark scenes are handled deftly as well, with inky black shadows and a nice balance, although in some shots (mostly digital effects shots), a hint of banding can be spotted. Compression is very strong, and detail is very strong, as one expects from a modern production shot on digital. The disc is also armed with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that is generally about the dialogue, but captures a measure of creeping terror when Jerry starts to lose grip from time to time. Much like the visuals, large portions of the soundtrack are bright and unnaturally cheerful, and the audio captures that positive energy nicely. A Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and English and Spanish subtitles are also included.

The Extras
"The Voices: From Fridge to Frame" (16:54) is first up, providing a general overview of the making of the movie. I hoped that Satrapi might expand on what it is that drew her to the film in an interview, given there is no commentary on the disc, but the EPK focuses more on the cast than on the director, with her few comments failing reveal much. Two visual effects-oriented featurettes follow: "VFX: The Making of Bosco and Mr. Whiskers" (6:34) and "VFX: Comparison Showreel" (2:55). The former recaps some of the information already present in the main making-of featurette regarding the digital effects needed to make the animals speak, while the latter is a standard reel showing the raw footage and completed shot. The final featurette, "The Voices of Ryan Reynolds" (4:31) is a reel of footage showing the actor voicing his four other characters in the film.

A significant chunk of additional footage follows. A couple of extended scenes (4:24) aren't anything special, showing off a bit more of Jerry's worktime fantasy, but the deleted scenes (12:10) contain some more significant excisions, including a lengthy scene between Jerry and Fiona testing her iPod on his speaker system, and an alternate ending in which Jerry has a bigger and more significant confrontation. There is also an alternate title sequence, and a couple of narrative moments that were easily explained elsewhere. The disc closes out with a lengthy selection of animatics (19:59), likely drawn by Satrapi herself (and voiced by a French actor, although they are in English), and a series of "Cast and Costume Sketch Gallery" featuring little index cards with a hand-drawn picture of each character and some information about them.

Trailers for Mortdecai, Killer Joe, Wild Card, The Captive, and a promo for Epix play before the main menu, and are accessible from the special features menu under "Also From Lionsgate." No trailer for The Voices has been included. All of the extras are in HD.

Despite a great director at the helm and a talented cast, The Voices never stops babbling incoherently long enough to make some sort of thematic point. It's certainly an interesting failure, packed with strong performances and memorable visuals, but it's also tedious, introducing ideas and failing to capitalize on them. Skip it.

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