Late Review: IN A WORLD…

Now out DVD, IN A WORLD… is both an amiable look at the world of voiceover artists and a promising directing debut for Lake Bell.

This Wednesday, one woman will teach another woman to sound a little less retarded.

–Carol

The death of the legendary Don LaFontaine left a big hole in the movie industry, but most people have never heard his name. They have, however, heard him. Over and over and over again. LaFontaine was “THE VOICE,” the man who provided narration for over 5000 trailers in his lifetime. He even took credit for coining that three-word phrase that have since become a punchline: “In a world…” (It was memorably spoofed in the trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s film Comedian, which took on a life of its own even if the movie itself did not.)

As depicted in this indie comedy of the same name, the cottage industry of voiceover narration is a small, highly competitive one. Only a handful of men get gigs doing film trailers — and they are all men — while the rest do commercials, corporate videos, television, and whatever work they can find. Writer-Director-Actress Lake Bell plays one of these “others,” a woman named Carol Solomon who toils in the shadows of an already obscure career, in between working as a freelance voice coach. She follows strangers around with a tape recorder, hoping to study their accents; the film begins with her helping Eva Longoria (gamely playing herself) learn how to speak like a mob wife. But she’s always had a dream of breaking that glass ceiling, alternately inspired and inhibited by her father Sam (Fred Melamed), who is the current “big dog” in the field and has the arrogance to show for it.

When she helps out her recording studio friend (Demetri Martin, whose character is nursing a desperate crush on Carol) by recording a trailer temp track for a new, mega-hyped YA release called The Amazon Games, an unprecedented opportunity presents itself: the producers of the film liked her track, and want her to do the gig for real — bringing back those three little words “In a world…” for the first time since LaFontaine’s death. But unfortunately for Carol, there are a few obstacles in her way to career validation: Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), the sleazeball new voice her father has been grooming as a protege, and even her father himself, who despite his (infrequent) support can’t actually bear to see a woman land a job that high-profile. It becomes an all-out war to become the new Voice of the Movies, and the business is surprisingly cutthroat. Picture an underdog sports film where the training montages consist of steam baths, drinking lemon tea (or “gargle water”), and warming up with some bilabial plosives. (The script is casual about jargon like that; it assumes the audience can keep up, which is a good assumption.)

It’s worth remarking that the actual quality of The Amazon Games is never discussed; in fact, the trailer makes it look pretty god-awful. But it’s a hot property sure to make massive bank, so being the one to introduce the film to the world is a pretty big deal. Out of LaFontaine’s thousands of gigs, how many of them were actually for good movies? Well, these guys don’t care. As long as Hollywood keeps churning them out, someone’s got to record the narration for the trailer.*

*I personally don’t care so much for trailer voiceovers, to be completely honest; I find them cheesy and cloying. I think they really started to go out of fashion years ago. But it would be a much darker reading of this story to make it about one woman’s desperate dream to “make it” in an industry that’s actually dying. I might have liked to see the film address that.

Bell shines as a comedic actress; she is fast-talking and charmingly awkward, adept with dialects and impressions. It’s clear that the film is a real passion project for her, and she sprinkles the script with insider jokes without ever coming across at smug. It simultaneously celebrates and pokes fun at these under-appreciated performers, which evokes the work of Christopher Guest — no small accomplishment. But while the film is at its best when navigating the sexist environment of Carol’s field, it pads out its already lean 93-minute run time with the interconnected exploits of Carol’s family, in particular her sister’s rocky marriage and her father’s new one to a blonde bimbo. And her father is just a jerk, which hurts the film because there would be more than enough people who already don’t want Carol to succeed without making Sam the primary villain. The performances are sharp, but the plotting is messy — not to say that the relationships aren’t well-drawn, because they are, but as a viewer I felt the business side could have been even further explored.

It all comes together in the final scenes, as Bell is able to make a profound statement about what it means to be “heard” as a woman and as a human being, even if it takes a zany route to get there — the film is funny, but less punchline-funny than situationally funny. One of the more amusing revelations in In a World… is that voiceover actors are just as egomaniacal, eccentric, and just weird as “regular” actors; a scene where Carol, attending a party at Gustav’s mansion, discovers his “secret room” full of ancient artifacts and masks plays broadly, and a couple of other moments feel like strangeness for strangeness’s sake, but you can’t fault Bell for take a big swing. I’m very curious to see what she does next, even if she’ll have to work a little harder to write a character that fits her talents this perfectly.

Grade: B

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