After several years of missteps ranging from Green Lantern to R.I.P.D. (RIP), Ryan Reynolds is coming back to what is arguably his best game — comedy. Though there’s nothing about going full Van Wilder that would gain him acclaim, Reynolds is at his most entertaining when playing the charming, smarmy dude he’s so perfectly emulated in his string of earlier comedies. That’s why his role in Marjane Satrapi‘s The Voices will hopefully bode so well for the actor, a dark comedy that can mesh his goofy side with the serious chops he’s picked up over the years…leaving the R.I.P.D.-ness of it all behind.
The first image of the film has been released, showing Reynolds as Jerry Hickfang, a bathroom fixture factory worker who talks to his pets. The loveable, but disturbed Hickfang accidentally kills his lady love in accounting, causing him to seek advice about what to do next from his bad influences, Mr. Whiskers and Bosco. As you can see in the still, that’s her head sitting pretty on the coffee table while the animals of the house offer their best (worst?) counseling. It’s very possible that Hickfang, if disturbed enough to kill his girlfriend and talk to his pets, could just be imagining the animals talking to him in the first place. How much do you want to bet that they’re sassy talking animals?
As promising as this film might be, I can’t help but think of another in-development project involving a speaking dog, a messed up man and death that would have been perfect at Sundance next month in its place. Nearly three years ago, it was announced that Steve Carell would be starring in the adaptation of Carolyn Parkhurst’s fantastic novel The Dogs of Babel. The film (adapted by We Are Marshall scribe Jamie Linden) centers on Paul Iverson, a linguistics professor who is so overwhelmed with grief and despair when his young wife dies that he consumes himself with teaching their dog to talk. The dog, Lorelei, is the only witness to her accidental death, which Paul has convinced himself is actually a suicide.
The story is a bittersweet and gutwrenching look at a personal account of mourning, examining the lengths that a grieving and slightly unhinged husband will go to in order to find out what really happened to his wife. The fact that Paul thinks that his wife killed herself makes matters that much more heartbreaking, that he’s putting himself — and the dog — through this tiny hell in order to find out just how unhappy she truly was in the last parts of her life. It’s a compelling, beautiful read, and will only make a gorgeous film.
Especially with Carell as Paul, the professor with the grand plans for his beloved pet. Carell has proved that he has a masterful range and is capable of handling a loaded dramtatic, emotional role. Though this isn’t a “talking animal” movie in the traditional sense, it’s almost creating something bigger; it’s showing how the talking animal is made.
This isn’t to say that Dogs of Babel is something better than The Voices, when they run in different genres. But it would be great if hype for a talking animal comedy got the wheels moving again on a long in-development drama that should be made, and seen, soon.