Feb 06

“The Voices” Film: Negative Stereotype of Psychosis

The lead character (Ryan Reynolds) in Marjane Satrapi‘s The Voices, a not-meant-to-be-realistic film that many critics see destined for cult-versus-mainstream status, represents a negative stereotype of someone with psychosis.

To be more specific, his “voices” lead him to extreme violence. But, the truth? As Dr. Fredric Neuman summarizes about the incidence of violence with psychotic disorders (Psychology Today), “(t)hey are both common—but occur together uncommonly.”

Eric D. Snider sets up the plot of The Voices:

Here is a pitch-black psycho-horror-comedy to restore one’s faith in the ‘What the eff did I just watch?’ genre. Set in a wholesome Aminerican town (the praises of which are sung in an opening theme song [!]), the film stars Reynolds as Jerry Hickfang, a smiling, awkward, not-quite-all-there fellow with a low-level factory job. He’s just out of prison on a work-release program and has a regular appointment with a court-ordered psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver), but he seems harmless enough. He goes through life in a bit of a daze, attended by imaginary butterflies, and has a cute crush on Fiona (Gemma Arterton), a beautiful brunette from the accounting department.

Also, his cat speaks to him. Abusively, hilariously, and with a Scottish accent. Mr. Whiskers harangues Jerry the same way that Mrs. Bates belittled Norman, and to similar effect. (His dog talks, too, but as you’d expect, he’s supportive and optimistic.) Jerry’s mother also heard voices, and Jerry has medication that silences them. But when he’s medicated, his bright, TV-like world turns dark, and he gets lonely. The only real problem with having Mr. Whiskers talk to him is that Mr. Whiskers, being a cat and a natural killer, has some violent suggestions.

And here’s a wild guess: no court-appointed shrink will be able to stop this train wreck from happening.

Also starring, by the way, is Anna Kendrick as another coworker of Jerry’s.

Jerry Hickfang’s Mental Illness

Peter Debruge, Variety: “a seriously disturbed schizophrenic.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “…a tormented Tony Perkins at the Bates Motel, re-imagined by Saturday Night Live…”

The Cat and Dog

Mary Sollosi, Indiewire: “Jerry’s pets serve as the angel (sweet Bosco) and devil (the manipulative Mr. Whiskers) on his shoulders, and while it’s clear to the audience that their dialogue and personalities are really just warring fragments of Jerry’s tortured mind, Jerry’s awareness of this fact is questionable, or maybe he just doesn’t want to believe it.”

Selected Reviews (And More About the Plot)

Amy Nicholson, LAWeekly: “The Voices is a perfect film that’s hard to watch. Jerry will kill, and he’ll kill characters we like. He thinks it’s by accident. Forced into his eyes, it’s hard to tell. At its Sundance premiere, dozens of people walked out at each death.”

Chuck Bowen, Slant: “The problem, beyond a general hideous un-funniness, is that the film’s premise is deeply repulsive. For about half of the film, Jerry’s insanity is meant to be kind of cute. For the other half, he’s butchering the women who work with him, brutally, in scenes that are staged as horror set pieces, and are performed by the female actors with an according intensity.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Stylized direction, aided by a nuanced script, allows us to see Jerry’s disintegrating world from his own haunting perspective, and Mr. Reynolds’ cheerful face makes his descent into madness completely unique. In case you question the film’s send-up of optimism turning the color of an exploding blood bank, there is even a musical number. It’s whimsical, terrifying, insane and not to be missed.”

Jul 15

“Unfinished Song”: Older Partners Coping With the Help of Music

Watching the new British film Unfinished Song, written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams, reminded me of the inspiring and worthy documentary Young at Heart (2007), about a real-life chorus of senior citizens in Massachusetts that sings contemporary songs. However, Unfinished Song is fictional, and the focus is mainly on only one individual, not the whole group.

From the official description of this dramedy: “UNFINISHED SONG is the funny and uplifting story of Arthur (Terence Stamp), a curmudgeon old soul perfectly content with sticking to his dull daily routine until his beloved wife (Vanessa Redgrave) introduces him to a spirited local singing group led by the youthful and charming Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton).” Tagline: Music is the cure for the common crank.

“Funny” is not the main sentiment that comes to my own mind, though. Yes, there’s humor—and thankfully; but there’s also plenty of poignancy. 

Arthur and Marion: More About the Plot

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “The suds machine kicks in from the outset when Marion, who is being treated for cancer, learns she has only months to live. Her fiercely protective husband insists that she stay at home and rest, but Marion, a devoted chorister who is beloved among the group members, insists on continuing for as long as she can. After she dies, about halfway into the movie [Elizabeth] coaxes Arthur to join and participate in a regional choir competition.”

No Ordinary Performances: More About The Stars

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “What Stamp and Redgrave really accomplish here is to paint a portrait of a long marriage without resorting to flashbacks or expository dialogue. It’s in every look and gesture. In the film, a comment is made about the power of a voice being not in technique but in the journey it took to get there. Stamp and Redgrave and living embodiments of that philosophy. Just sit back and behold.”

Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: “Thank goodness, at least, for the sterling cast. In fact, you won’t find a better example of the ways in which craft and talent can elevate even the most rote material.”

Lou Lumenick, New York Post: “Stamp could not be better as a man set emotionally adrift when he loses the love of his life.”

Need a Good Cry?: More About What You’ll Feel

Tomas Hachard, NPR: “…Unfinished Song, which played festivals last year under the title Song for Marion, doesn’t earn its sentimentalism; instead it rolls through a series of cliched life lessons that never come close to exploring the film’s emotional territory with any depth or commitment.”

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “To gag or to weep, that is the question. You may do both while watching ‘Unfinished Song,’ a shamelessly sentimental, manipulative comic tear-jerker; a grumpy old man; and his saintly wife.”

Worth Seeing?: More from the Reviewers

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “A moving meditation on aging, illness, family conflicts and long relationships, Unfinished Song…also celebrates life and pays tribute to catchy songs.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:Unfinished Song is Glee for seniors living in the hope of making it to nationals. Hold the cringes…Unfinished Song is better than Glee, way better. Nobody on that painfully-dying series has the talent of Stamp, 74, and Redgrave, 76, two acting legends who could breathe creative helium into anything, including this corpse of a script.”