Film: In A World…

If you want people to go see a movie, so the traditional logic goes, get a man with a low growly voice to sell it to them. That’s what turned Don LaFontaine – the man who recorded over 5,000 movie trailers and practically trademarked the phrase ‘In a world…’ – into the most famous voiceover artist of all time. LaFontaine is gone but the voiceover industry lives on and it is in this strange, insular, intensely cliquey corner of Hollywood that Lake Bell has set her touching, offbeat comedy.

 

Bell, who wrote, produced and directed the film, also stars as Carol, a thirtysomething accent coach who’s desperately trying to break into the boys-only club of movie voiceovers. In the meantime she’s crashing on a sofa at her sister and brother-in-law’s (Michela Watkins and Rob Corddry) and failing to notice that her recording studio colleague (Demetri Martin) is hopelessly in love with her.

Her father Sam (Fred Melamed) is a LaFontaine-esque star of the business, but rather than helping out his daughter he’s more interested in nuzzling his pretty young girlfriend and supporting his male protégé (Ken Marino). The best piece advice he can offer to Carol is to give up on her dreams – the industry simply isn’t interested in a female sound.

So many comedies are constructed to best serve the plot and the punch lines, so it is delight to find one that gives the characters so much space and depth. Most of the cast are people that Bell has known for years and several parts were tailor-made for the actors. The performances are as witty and nuanced as the writing – even side characters are rounded out to feel like real people rather than walk on parts.

But it is the passionate, unabashed feminism of the film that is the most exciting element of Bell’s debut feature. While voiceover work is only a small part of the Hollywood machine, it is a depressingly perfect synecdoche of the entire industry. The number of female speaking roles in American films is currently at the lowest it has been for five years, with men making up over 70 per-cent of all voices heard on screen. The same sexist logic that holds that a male voice is the best way to sell a film extends all the way up to assuming that having a male writer, director, producer and star is best way to guarantee an audience.

Both the narrative and the very existence of In A World wittily mocks the stupidity of that belief. In an unexpectedly moving final scene, Carol is seen teaching an inaugural voice-coaching class for various squeaky voiced valley girls who have made passing appearances earlier in the film. “I’m going to teach you how to not sound like sexy baby dolls” she tells them “because you’re better than that. And women should speak like women. They should stand up and they should make their voices heard.”

 

This article appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Little White Lies