An underachieving vocal coach (Lake Bell) is motivated by her father, the king of movie-trailer voice-overs, to pursue her aspirations of becoming a voiceover star. Amidst pride, sexism and family dysfunction, she sets out to change the voice of a generation.
If you’ve ever laughed out loud while listening to the portentous, gravelly voiceovers that accompany Hollywood movie trailers, then you’ll delight in Lake Bell’s fresh and funny comic drama. Set in the ridiculous and still strictly male-dominated milieu of movie trailer voiceover artists, the film gives a delicious inside look at this little-known part of the film industry, where the egos are huge, the voices are deep and the stakes are really rather paltry. Yet the film continues to take this world very seriously, and it’s all the funnier for doing so.
Lake Bell, who also wrote and directed the film, stars as Carol, an underachieving thirty-something voice coach who still lives at home. Dishevelled and goofy, she specialises in foreign accents and earns a pittance on small jobs, like training Eva Longoria to speak with a Cockney sneer (“Is that what you think, you stupid slapper?”). Carol harbours ambitions of becoming the first female voiceover artist to do movie trailers, but she’s summarily dismissed by her narcissistic voiceover artist father, Sam (an hilarious Fred Melamed, best known as the villain Sy Ableman in the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man). Doing voiceovers is a man’s business, says Sam. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it’s always been, and always will be.
Sam’s velvety baritone has placed him in line to take over from the late and legendary Don LaFontaine, the real-life ‘voice of God’ best known for speaking those now iconic lines, ‘in a world…’. Also competing for the crown is Sam’s protégé, a handsome trust-fund player, Gustav Warner (a delightfully sleazy Ken Marino). They both go into battle against Carol when she gets a lucky break voicing the trailer to a female-centred sci-fi action blockbuster, The Amazon Games. (The fictional trailer features an uncredited Cameron Diaz in glamazon warrior mode).
With her Hollywood good looks, Lake Bell is best known for a variety of girlfriends and sidekicks (No Strings Attached, It’s Complicated, What Happens in Vegas) and also for her comic skills in a long-time role as Dr. Cat Black in the television spoof series Children’s Hospital. In casting this film, Bell brought on board a number of her co-stars from that series (including Michaela Watkins, playing Carol’s unfaithful sister, and Rob Corddry, playing the cuckolded husband), and this comic ensemble works superbly, even in some of the less successful subplots.
The banter-heavy script, which won the Sundance 2013 Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, is frequently dirty, daring and fast-paced, while retaining its genuine sweetness and generosity of spirit. It’s clear that Bell loves the world she’s depicting, and that she’s working from inside knowledge, having spent many years obsessing over accents and practising voiceovers.
Despite its small budget and comic sensibility, In a World... is pleasingly cinematic, with DOP Seamus Tierney (Liberal Arts) choosing old style anamorphic lenses and stable, unobtrusive camera-work to achieve a classic feel. The close-ups of Bell and the other voiceover artists in the recording studio, headphones clamped around their ears, eyes shining with pleasure, rubbery lips warming up around nonsense as they play their vocal instruments, are among the film’s best moments.
The film’s most awkward scene features a cameo by Geena Davis, playing a movie studio executive who bumps into Carol in the ladies’ loos at an awards dinner. Davis gives good feminist manifesto, with a nice pragmatic twist, but it’s a jarring moment, and the message is undermined by Davis’ celebrity.
These wobbles aside, the considerable achievement of In a World... is that it works so well not just as an anti-patriarchal parable, but also as pure feel-good entertainment. It’s also a reminder to any female wanting to be taken seriously, that talking like a ‘sexy baby’ or ‘squeaky toy’ is never going to cut it.
Watch 'In a World...'
Monday 15 June, 7:45pm on SBS World Movies (streaming after broadcast at SBS On Demand)
Tuesday 16 June, 3:55am & 11:35pm on SBS World Movies
Director: Lake Bell
Starring: Lake Bell, Geena Davis, Nick Offerman, Jeff Garlin, Demetri Martin, Fred Melamed
What's it about?
An underachieving vocal coach (Bell) is motivated by her father, the king of movie-trailer voice-overs, to pursue her aspirations of becoming a voiceover star. Amidst pride, sexism and family dysfunction, she sets out to change the voice of a generation.