A 'world' unheard
‘In a World …’ shines a comedic spotlight on a woman’s battle to break into a Hollywood boy’s club
By Carl Kozlowski 08/28/2013
Ever notice how every movie trailer you have ever seen seems to have the same voice or two behind it? Whether expressing epic wonder, comical surprise or dramatic despair, a very small circle of voiceover masters is responsible for convincing the planet’s movie audiences that any movie — no matter how bad it looks on screen — is going to deliver an amazing evening of entertainment.
These voices truly sound great, with vibrant tone wringing every last emotional nuance out of the hyperbolic text they’re spewing towards theater seats. But think hard and pay attention, and you’ll notice one other, truly strange fact: these vocal wonders are always exclusively male.
That’s right, despite the fact that the female voice has far more range, appeal and beauty than a man’s, you will never hear a woman’s voice in a movie trailer, marking that level of voiceover work as one of the last truly segregated jobs in America. But in the new dramedy “In a World …” red-hot rising-star actress Lake Bell does a bang-up job not only as the lead character, but as writer and director in the tale of a woman who dares to demand an equal shot at this strangest of boys’ clubs.
Bell plays Carol, a vocal coach for actors and a voiceover actress for commercials, living in the shadow of her father, Sam (Fred Melamed), who has long been known as the old-school king of the voiceovers. When her dad kicks her out of his house and tells her to get more motivated with her life, she moves in with her sister and her husband, creating comic havoc in their lives not only because she is an extra body in the apartment but because Carol has an annoying habit of constantly, secretly taping everyone she’s around in order to master their dialects.
While her life seems to be falling apart, Carol suddenly catches a break when she has to fill in and record an emergency voiceover on a children’s-movie trailer when the hired actor suddenly falls ill. Her voice was only intended to let studio executives hear what the voiceover dialogue would sound like in the trailer, but in a miracle twist, the execs decide it’s time to use a woman’s voice on that kind of movie.
Carol has done the unthinkable, snagging a plum job right from the mouth of her father’s friendly competitor and fellow trailer king, Gustav Warner (Ken Marino). But she doesn’t know that Gustav is the voice she replaced, and he doesn’t know she’s the woman whose luck is enraging him, and even more comic havoc ensues when the two hook up at a party at his house.
As she continues her rise through the trailer world, Carol finds herself competing against both her father and her new fling. And so it is that “In A World…” manages to not only be an astute satire of the trailer voiceover biz, but also becomes a surprisingly deep character study of what could easily have been a bunch of clichéd personalities.
Give all the credit to Bell, who has been making a noticeable climb in the comedy world for the past decade with a string of supporting roles in films like “No Strings Attached” and a prime role on the brilliant Cartoon Network Adult Swim show “Childrens Hospital.” Tired of languishing in sidekick and girlfriend roles, she decided to take her career reins and create her own movie here.
What’s really remarkable is that Bell didn’t just craft a simple-minded romantic comedy as her dream vehicle, but instead has made a movie that is not only highly entertaining but actually has something to say. Not only does she make audiences wonder why women are absurdly barred from any chance to succeed in trailers, but she also makes a potent running gag of Carol’s aggravation with the seemingly unending parade of women in modern-day Los Angeles who talk like baby dolls even when they have power positions in the workforce. Bell makes it clear that to have a voice in the world, women have to first respect the voice inside of themselves.
As Carol climbs the ladder of voiceovers, the movie takes on a subtle form of the can-do, cheer-them-on spirit of “Rocky” and “Working Girl,” but in spite all the clever laughs and sharp performances, a bit of melancholy lingers. Carol may get her shot, but in this world, women like Bell still must fight way too hard to enjoy the same success as their male counterparts. I look forward to a world where this workplace fantasy will become a commonplace reality.