“Farmer’s Roast coffee - picked and packed by orphans.”
“Farmer’s Roast coffee - smells like shit, tastes like ass.”
“Farmer’s Roast coffee - the dictators’ choice.”
From its opening scene - where the eponymous, douche bag of an antihero, Blake Mention goes majorly off-script while practising his words for a generic instant coffee ad at the mic - The Voiceover Artisthad me firmly in its grips. Coulda woulda shoulda TV veteran Greg Anthony (Store Dicks, Fabatoir, Doublewide & Mongo to name just a few of his credits) seems to have smelled the emotional integrity of the modest script by disgraced former Mr Universe, Glans Aarhus, and ran with it all the way to a career topping performance by some incredible distance.
The story is slight but Anthony’s acting, by turns bitter, beaten and beatific, coupled with the ceaselessly inventive execution by first time director Diablo, turns TVA into an experience that’s anything but.
Blake Mention is a very successful voiceover artist. His golden tones have been heard, trusted and loved by generations - in movies, on the radio, in cartoons, adverts and TV serials. The only thing is - while his voice is the sound of all that’s good and wholesome in Uncle Sam’s picket-fenced backyard, the man is a total, A-grade asshole. He’s a misogynist’s misogynist, hates children and plays on his status as beloved, national treasure to live a wild life with collateral damage trailing in his wake.
And then one day, while humiliating a store clerk, his voice disappears. A visit to a specialist later and Blake learns that his voice has gone for good, and that he has terminal cancer.
And at this moment two things happen in quick succession: the film enjoys its first taste of total silence; and then the voiceover starts. But it’s not, as you might expect, Blake’s. In fact [spoilers], he never says another word for the duration of the film although the camera scarcely leaves his side. No, the voiceover is that of a young, unnamed woman, and it accompanies Blake, and us, during the days and few short weeks leading on from his diagnosis as he struggles to make sense of his life and what remains of it.
TVA’s masterstroke is twofold. First, that the young woman’s narration is not by any means omniscient. In fact, she often appears to be making sense of Blake’s experiences imperfectly and on the fly. And secondly, her voiceover often falls away or is supplemented by clever editing that borrows ambient dialogue and sounds to reflect Blake’s thoughts and often clumsy attempts to get his message across.
One scene finds Blake, shortly after his diagnosis, listening to a CD - ‘Let’s talk about cancer’ - while sitting on a lakeside bench in a busy park. As the heavily scripted faux dialogue between a cancer patient and doctor plays, Blake’s eyes focus in on a pair of ducks quacking at one another. And so the conversation appears to unfold between two Mallards on the water.
Later on, a passing hobo’s unhinged ranting appears to match Blake’s wild gesticulating perfectly as Mention attempts to persuade a traffic cop not to give him a ticket. And the movie is filled with moments like these that simultaneously express and undercut Blake’s frustration, anger, fear and unwillingness to accept his lot and move forwards. There’s humour and sadness, and TVA’s strength is that it never lets either one bed in and get comfortable for long at the expense of the other.
These moments culminate it the big reveal - that the young female narrator is in fact his estranged daughter Lucy, and her words are in fact her eulogy for Blake. Imperfect, fractured but lending him a voice at the end of everything.
The last ten minutes of The Voiceover Artist show Blake and Lucy walking hand in hand during the last days of his life through a summer meadow, suggesting that he finally found some measure of acceptance. There is no narration. Instead all we hear before the screen goes black (and for some seconds after it does) is the sound of their breathing, the grass swish swishing against their legs, crickets chirping and birds lazily wheeling a calling in the sky above.