There’s something about Ryan Reynolds that’s always rubbed me up the wrong way. Maybe it’s his high profile that’s so out of proportion to his middling career, maybe it’s his weak smile and perpetually blank face, all unfinished smoothness like some 2001-era CGI, or maybe it’s just that I’m jealous that Scarlett Johansson chose him over me back in 2008. Whatever it is, he bugs me, even more so than other actors of his ilk — the Bradley Coopers and Sam Worthingtons, these lumpen sausage-meat actors continually foisted upon us as The Next Big Thing because Hollywood can’t imagine a world in which a thirtysomething white man with beady eyes set into a face like raw cookie dough can’t lead a movie to a huge profit. All that said, Ryan Reynolds playing an unhinged serial killer is something I can apparently get on board with.
The Voices, a black comedy from Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi, is the story of Ryan Reynolds’ Jerry, an innocent, happy, light-hearted figure with a troubled past in a quaint, pastel-toned industrial town like something from a Wes Anderson film, jaunty workers in pink boiler suits and a Disney-like charm about it all. How much of this is real is left unclear; we never see much of the town outside of Jerry’s mentally unstable perspective, a man who debates personal morality with his pet cat and dog, who debate right back at him.
Jerry’s oddness, the peculiar town, the general background quirkiness — including some musical numbers — all adds up to make a funny film. That quirkiness gets the occasional slap; when The Voices goes dark, it goes so dark, so quickly, it feels like a Michael Haneke-style finger-wagging experiment in cinematic judgmentalism, daring you to laugh as Jerry brutally stabs a woman to death. There’s nothing funny in this, the camera lingering over the act to underscore the violence, and the terror felt by his victim, but perhaps this tonal jarring is intentional. A later scene showing how Jerry sees the world when he’s on his medication briefly reveals the grime and misery of reality; is this Satrapi’s point? That the madness Jerry experiences, the madness that gives him such a rose-tinted view of the world, is preferable to medicated normality? Maybe not; he kills when he’s off his meds, after all. It’s not that great a situation to be in.
The Voices, with its pink, sugary coating hiding a rotten core, is an intriguing piece, darkly comic and full of guilty laughs. As for Reynolds, the absence of any emotional depth or maturity that I expect from a typical Ryan Reynolds’ performance works perfectly when he’s portraying a character who can switch between dorky boyish charm and dead-eyed evil in a moment, for when you look deep into the void of Ryan Reynolds’ soul, the void looks deep into you.