“Better Than Bladerunner”- Top Fifteen Uses of Voiceover- A Mexican Standoff
Voiceover is a mechanic that I hate. Most of the time, it’s superfluous and annoying and really just only explains the absolute obvious, pandering straight down into the audience’s faces. Personally, it turns me off.
That’s why proper use of the mechanic should be awarded. It’s not without its merits. Sometimes it’s necessary to understanding the plot, while others use it for an added injection of comedy. It can be a handy feature, but only if used correctly. The items on this list will be immortalized for their not being as bad as the voiceover from Bladerunner.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The entire genre of film noir has been discounted from this list, as the vast majority of its films contain voiceover and it’s all so strikingly similar that it’s hard to differentiate them. That being said, on with the list…
15.) Mean Girls
In case you didn’t know, Tina Fey knows how to write. Told to us from the point of view of Cady (Lindsay Lohan), Mean Girls uses its voiceover to tell us the terrors of high school lunch rooms and set up jokes comparing teenagers to animals at the watering holes, with probably an equal amount of dry humping.
Dat Morgan Freeman voice. Admittedly, this award should probably go to something more like Shawshank Redemption, but it has been ages since I’ve seen Tim Robbins crawl through the shit and come out the other side clean. Freeman’s brief voiceover is the perfect cap to David Fincher’s dark crime tale. “Ernest Hemingway once said the world is a fine place and worth fighting for. I agree with that last part.”
13.) In Bruges
Used only at the very beginning and the very end, Colin Farrell’s Ray caps the film, setting us up for the kind of crime tale where our hero washes gun residue off his hands in the Burger King sink, and paying us off with a closing shot that I cannot possibly imagine without voiceover. Like everything Martin McDonagh touches, the words are perfect.
Snatch makes it in here by virtue of the fact that its voiceover is 100% necessary in order to comprehend the film. In a move director Guy Ritchie would replicate later, Jason Statham’s Turkish introduces us to the entire film and its cast of characters, which is as dense and rich as the series run of Game of Thrones. Without that silky, raspy Statham Voice to soothe us, we would be lost amongst unkillable Borises and ridiculous Brad Pitt accents.
Kids, in the grand scheme of voiceover, not much beats How I Met Your Mother (according to my list, only ten items beat How I Met Your Mother). How much sense it makes that Bob Saget plays the voice of Ted (Josh Radnor) just a few years in the future is up for debate, but what isn’t is how well our misleading narrator has lead us through eight years of hijinks and suits.
10.) My Name is Earl
Earl Hickey (Jason Lee) was our portal into the strange and interesting world of Camden County, populated by an incredibly colorful cast of various low class people with varying degrees of lottery winnings in their possession. Lee had the Earl character nailed right out of the gate, and he made a wonderful guide through one simple man’s quest to earn himself some good karma.
9.) Pushing Daisies
In the final move of quirk that nudged Pushing Daisies over the edge into just being a candy-colored storybook on table, Jim Dale played our omnipotent narrator, the first on this list to not be a character in the film or show he parlays (and the only one familiar to Harry Potter book-on-tape enthusiasts).
8.) In America
Nothing can open up your heart to the possibility of tears like having an adorable Irish girl tell you a story about her family. The story of one family’s quest to survive in America after the death of the infant son, our narrator often asks her brother for wishes, most of them just so that her dad can be happy again. Excuse me for a moment. I have to go weep uncontrollably.
This entry has the virtue of being Stephen Fry. Perhaps most notable for doing the book-on-tape of the actual Douglas Adams novel, Fry also narrated the dreadful film adaptation, and had the added bonus of being the best part about it. For a film that stars Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, Alan Rickman, and John Malkovich, it’s amazing how much of the weight Fry pulls, being an ethereal voice and all.
6.) American Beauty
Kevin Spacey’s a man who does good voiceover. As bored and depressed suburbanite Letser Burnham, Spacey escorts us through an adventure that takes just under a year, primarily because we find out right as the film starts that in less than a year, Burnham will be dead. And it’s a wonderful, surreal ride of real estate and imagined nymphomania getting there.
5.) Arrested Development
On a show this relentlessly funny, it’s a big statement to say that Ron Howard garners many of the show’s biggest laughs, while also letting us in on what in the hell is going on. The best news is that Howard will be back for that Season 4 we’ll be greeted with this summer, for which I’m sure we all have a very firm handle on our expectations.
4.) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Failed voiceover and sad Christmas are two of the things that writer/director Shane Black does so well. Our narrator, Charlie (Robert Downey, Jr.) fumbles frequently while trying to tell us our story, often having to backtrack over himself and restate information, occasionally berating himself and the audience. To borrow a line, it all sounds like your dad telling a joke.
3.) Fight Club
Known only as the Narrator (for obvious reasons for anyone who has seen the film), Edward Norton’s character’s bone dry sarcasm leads us through one of the darkest comedies you’ll ever see. He tells us about how insurance companies don’t care about us, and about Starbucks, and all of those things that that really annoying guy you know is always telling you, but it sounds way better coming out of his mouth.
Scrubs just wouldn’t be the same without the friendly voice of J.D. (Zach Braff) teaching us lessons and making sure we understood the theme this week. Scrubs is told from such a peculiar and particular point of view (one that frequently imagines himself as a Floating Head Doctor) that it’s understandable why some people would be totally turned off by it. But for anyone who enjoys slapstick comedy and eeeeaaaagles, it’ll always have a special place in our Sacred Hearts (pun).
You had to know this was coming. Goodfellas is the granddaddy of voiceover, not from how old it is, but by the sheer mass of narration in this film. Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill probably says more words per minute in this film than Ray Liotta is in films. Hill speaks at us what I can only imagine is novels and novels of text, laid over a plate of egg noodles and ketchup. Watch Goodfellas. Then watch the Community episode that perfectly parodies Goodfellas. Both are worth every second of your time… for their sweet, sweet incorporeal voices.
Chekhov’s Gunman is a film and television blog moderated by Kevin Lanigan, a future writer of movies and TV and current writer of the long-awaited Ei8ht. Check back weekly for one of these Mexican Standoffs, our reviews of Community and Game of Thrones, and the Good Stuff.
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And that, kids, is how I met your mother.