The most efficient marketing tool is the human voice. It’s familiar, relatable, and can sound like the voice of God when amplified to an authoritative degree. Director/writer/actress Lake Bell knows this all too well, as her film In A World… revolves around the power of voiceover and its male-commandeered influence on humankind. We all know who Don LaFontaine is: he’s the trailer guy whose omnipotent “In a World…” preface to every movie trailer made each film seem like an epic for the ages. 46 years in the business and 5,000+ movie trailer voiceovers in total, LaFontaine was Hollywood’s God Almighty. Nobody can discount LaFontaine’s contribution to the industry, but did Hollywood set a bad precedent by having a male voice monopolize this field for so long? Bell’s film makes that argument, creating a fictitious story that subverts the idea that only men with thunderous voices are allowed to wield authority over consumers.
Bell’s concept is a noble one, feminist without resorting to stereotypical harshness, but her comedic sensibilities often conflict and devalue the importance of her revolutionary cause. In A World… is more a black comedy than anything else, a genre that by nature draws more raucous laughter than changes an audience’s thinking pattern. Since nobody in In A World… even behaves like a human being — a rule of thumb that black comedies live by — Bell’s pro-female message might be buried deep underneath a pile of laughter. Is this film a well-constructed comedy? Sure, I guess so. I was hollering quite a bit, but I can’t say Bell’s filmmaking methods are going to restructure the male-dominated arena of voiceover work.
Bell’s black comedy (I say that because some of these characters are downright mean and egregiously immoral) centers on thirty-something vocal instructor Carol Solomon (Bell), who dreams to one day be a famous voiceover performer like her father Sam Soto (Peter Melamed) and, of course, the late Don LaFontaine. Soto considers retirement after he learns he’s receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the yearly Golden Trailer Awards. After all, he’s hit the threshold of his long-spanning career and can only go down from here. Instead of rearing his daughter to follow in his footsteps, the sexist and misogynistic Soto — who’s dating a reality star groupie (Alexandra Holden) younger than both of his daughters — sets his sights on making a hotshot voice star (Ken Marino), with some clout in the industry, his successor. However, the two are unaware that Carol is on the fast track to book a major voice gig for a film quadrilogy known as The Amazon Games (how…original?).
Sam Soto is undeniably the most despicable movie character I’ve come across this year. Aside from his sexist ideology, the fact that he comes out of retirement just to book a trailer that Carol is in the running for, puts him on the wall of shame alongside other deplorable movie villains (Soto isn’t a “Love to Hate” kind of guy). Bell tries to redeem Soto in the end, but what audience member is going to believe a last-minute gesture of kindness is genuine when he’s been nothing but pure evil? Melamed is a fantastic actor, and is more nefarious here than his villainous turn in A Serious Man but just as stereotypically problematic. One of the problems I had with A Serious Man was its portrayal of Jewish men. I promise, not all of us are grubby, greedy, lecherous, hairy dudes who constantly go on power trips and look down on anyone unorthodox. That “type” of Jewish man rears its ugly, caricature head in In A World… in the form of Sam Soto. I get that Bell wants to expose the big-headed sexism of the Hollywood elite — many of whom happen to be Jewish — and put them on blast, but I don’t understand the point of stripping away every shred of humanity from a character just to prove a point. Both the Coens and Bell are Jewish, so maybe they’re just presenting a cultural reflection that they grew up with, but that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable to sit through.
There’s a random side story concerning Carol’s sister Dani (Mikaela Watkins) and brother-in-law Moe (Rob Corrdry) that seems ripped right out of a late-night family drama show. Dani, a concierge at a famous hotel, gets a little too close with a handsome Irish guest and threatens to split her marriage apart. I’m not sure what value this subplot has in the grand scheme of the narrative, but having a woman commit a crime of adultery seems counter-intuitive for a film that seeks to empower women. On a brighter note, the romance between Carol and sound engineer Louis (Demetri Martin) goes to interesting, unpredictable places that don’t typify this genre. Martin breaks out as a guy who approaches love with respect and cares a great deal for women’s rights in the workforce. I only wish more characters like Louis inhabited the film.
Bell’s got a knack for comedy, and even though I have many issues with the way she delivers her pro-female message, I can’t deny her ability to make audiences giggle. In a World… is filled with some fantastic zingers and memorable lines of dialogue (“I’ll support you by not supporting you” is one of my favorites). I’m not sure I agree with Bell’s “one woman, one voice” mantra, since gender isn’t codified by a few key personality/behavioral traits. When Bell’s Carol wanted to change the way a girl on the street spoke (she has a high-pitched, squeaky-toy voice) in order to shape her into a “strong sounding” woman, it kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Personally, I don’t see the point of changing someone and judging how they speak just so they can fit an “appropriate mold.” Not every woman needs to sound as gruff as Sigourney Weaver in order to take down the male establishment (see: Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty). Points are added to In a World… for a fantastic cameo by the undervalued Geena Davis, who plays a tough executive that takes a leap of faith and nearly fulfills Bell’s mission to create a new world order where women can be just as God-like as men.
More comedic than revolutionary, Roadside Attraction’s In a World… releases in the UK on September 13th, 2013. A U.S. release date has yet to be announced.
Check out the trailer below: