Directed by: Lake Bell
Premise: A female voice coach (Lake Bell) competes with male talent, including her father, for the coveted job of narrating a high profile movie trailer.
What Works: In a World is a clever concept for a film in part because it uses a nugget of reality as the basis for a fictional story. The film begins with news coverage of the death of Don LaFontaine, the renowned vocal performer who provided narration for thousands of film trailers and commercials and whose use of the expression “In a world . . .” became legendary. As the story presents it, LaFontaine’s death opens up an opportunity for a new voice to rise to the top of the industry. Into this void enters a female voice coach, played by Lake Bell. Like much of Hollywood, the voiceover industry is dominated by men and Bell’s character struggles to even be considered for jobs simply on the basis of being a woman. In a World is a feminist piece and the extent to which the filmmakers balance the storytelling and the politics is among the most impressive aspects of the movie. The risk of political films is that they become too didactic or self-important. This movie demonstrates a sense of humor about the chauvinism surrounding the main character which makes its critique of sexism easier to take. The filmmakers also resist the notion that a feminist movie must idealize its female protagonist and Lake Bell’s character is allowed to be foolish. She’s not an idiot but she does have flaws and awkward moments that humanize her and put the audience on her side. Beyond Bell’s character, In a World dramatizes women’s experiences in a man’s world through its supporting and background characters. Michaela Watkins plays the sister of Bell’s character who must fend off advances at work and that causes conflict in her marriage. The father of Watkins and Bell’s characters (Fred Melemed) is romantically involved with a younger woman, played by Alexandra Holden. Holden’s character is at first passed off as the stereotypical trophy wife but by the end she emerges as a distinct character. Bell’s character also works with other young women as a voice coach and vocal sound is utilized in this film as a metaphor for integrity and identity. Many of her clients speak in a nasally sound that is associated with female stupidity. This allows Bell to stand out from the rest of the female cast but it also allows the filmmakers to associate how we speak with who we are and who society expects us to be.
What Doesn’t: The politics of In a World can be accused of being naïve. The movie is firmly rooted in a belief in meritocracy and that the hardest working and best skilled person will rise to the top. Given the absence of women in the movies these days, In a World’s response to Hollywood patriarchy comes across a little shortsighted. But then again the film is intended to be a likable romantic comedy, albeit a smart one, so a more cynical approach would be inconsistent with the film’s tone. In a World lampoons the culture of Hollywood and a lot of its comedy is based on inside jokes. Viewers don’t have to work in Hollywood to get them but audiences who have some understanding of show business—or at least show business movies—will probably get more out of In a World. The weakest element of the picture is a romantic subplot in which Lake Bell’s character gradually comes to realize that the male companion in her midst is more than a friend. The potential for romance between the characters isn’t especially compelling and the plot turns in the love story follow the predictable beats of a romantic comedy. The lack of imagination in this aspect of the picture is disappointing, especially in comparison to the much more creative decisions made throughout the rest of the film.
DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes, gag reel, and trailers.
Bottom Line: In a World marks the arrival of Lake Bell, who wrote, produced, directed, and starred in this film and it’s a thoughtful movie that takes on the under-representation of women in media. It isn’t especially heavy but its light touch makes it all the more effective. But, as important as its politics may be, In a World is also well made and very entertaining.
Episode: #481 (March 9, 2014)