BY DYLAN ANDREW
In lieu of writing a full-on review of Marjane Satrapi’s The Voices (released earlier this year), I’ve opted instead to do a more focused piece on the films’ central performance. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that my thoughts on the film, which I saw two days ago, haven’t really settled into a strong opinion of it as an overarching work. I mostly enjoyed the experience of watching The Voices (though “enjoy” is a strange word to throw at a film that’s often very disturbing), and I admire the ways the film attempts to be subversive. Though it operates as a dark comedy, there’s something very humanistic about The Voices in the way it treats its central characters’ mental illness. It was a bold move on Satrapi’s part to take the mental state of such a disturbed character so seriously in a film that otherwise operates on a heightened level. Nonetheless, when the film makes these shifts between fantastical dark comedy and a more grounded, compassionate reality, it starts to feel very glib in a way I don’t think it intends to be. Given the disparate elements in play, it’s miraculous that The Voices works on any level, and much of that is to the credit of the incredible performance Ryan Reynolds delivers.
Because of his impeccable, movie star good looks, Reynolds has been frequently pigeonholed as the serviceable-yet-boring leading man type in his more Hollywood outings (The Proposal, Green Lantern, ect.). As I never got around to seeing his acclaimed performance in the claustrophobic indie thriller Buried (the first suggestion their might be more to him than meets the eye), I took it on good faith that Reynolds was capable of good work, but I didn’t see the proof of that until The Voices. His performance as Jerry, an extremely odd but seemingly affable guy with latent psychological issues (to put it mildly), seems on the surface like the epitome of playing against type. However, I suspect that Reynolds’ skill-set, like Brad Pitt and Bradley Cooper before him, is actually best suited for roles that play against his leading man looks.
Though it would seem hard (if not downright impossible) to buy Reynolds from the outset as Jerry, he is utterly convincing in the role. Though it’s immediately clear upon our introduction to him that there’s something wrong (though the film takes its time in peeling back the psychological layers), Reynolds brings a disarming sweetness and vulnerability to the character that renders him enormously empathetic. Though Reynolds frequently portrays Jerry’s social awkwardness for uncomfortable humor, he is just as convincing in the moments where the film decides to take him and his mental illness seriously. Though the tonal shifts in the film are still apparent and somewhat jarring, Reynolds’ ability to balance these aspects of the character in his performance help to smoothen them out. Reynolds manages to make Jerry so endearing that he’s even able to turn him into a convincing romantic lead when the film decides to go in that direction. It helps that he’s paired opposite the always likable Anna Kendrick, but it’s still remarkable that we’re rooting for him, given how well-established the threat he poses to her is at that point in the film.
As if everything I mentioned above wasn’t more than enough for any actor to chew on, there’s a conceit to Reynolds’ performance that I’d be remiss not to mention. As the title of the film implies, Jerry’s mental illness entails him hearing voices, which manifest in the form of his two pets, a dog and a cat (operating like the angel and devil on his shoulders, respectively). Reynolds voices each of these psychological projections himself, and this aspect of his performance demonstrates an unexpected penchant for immersive voice acting on his part. He gives both pets a distinctive voice (the cat sporting a menacing Scottish brogue and the dog speaking in a drawl reminiscent of Cecil Turtle) and in either case it’s heard recognizing Reynolds’ usual speaking voice underneath.
Whatever else my feelings about The Voices, Reynolds offers a tour-de-force performance that might very well end up being my favorite performance of this year.