In a World, actor Lake Bell’s debut as an indy writer/director, is a wonderful, witty, madcap exploration of voice-over talent inscribed with a feminist message. “In a world . . .” refers to the iconic phrase intoned by the most famous voice-over artist, Don LaFontaine, whose legacy other male artists are eager to track and supersede. Carol Solomon (Bell), a voice coach whose father, Sam (Fred Melamed), is the prime contender for LaFontaine’s spot in the pantheon of voice-over stars, winds up besting not just her pompous dad, but his sexist younger competitor, Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), for a coveted spot intoning “in a world” on a trailer for a new quartet of girl-power, futuristic fantasy films about Amazons taking over the universe.
The film’s plot is slight, but the winning performances and comic interactions among characters who sound like they’re improvising their awkward-adorable dialogue make In a World charming. As Carol, the lanky, coltish young woman whose voice is more powerful than she is, Bell is appealing and smart. She might sleep late and keep a messy home, and she might fall into bed with Gustav Warner, letting him seduce her with cheesy lines at a party in his mansion, but Carol has her head on straight.
She and her sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins), suffer together through their father Sam’s thoughtless betrayals. He’s jealous of Carol’s potential and scolds her ambitions, insisting that a woman’s voice will never become the iconic one of movie trailers. He dates Jamie (Alexandra Holden), a woman younger than his daughters, whose idiotic fandom lets her overlook his advancing age and his sagging body. Holden makes Jamie appealing instead of smarmy, as she sides with Carol and Dani and insists that Sam act like a father instead of a diva.
Subplots flesh out the story, as Dani and her husband Moe (Rob Corddry) weather a bit of marital strife that Carol inadvertently initiates by asking Dani to capture on tape the accent of a swaggering Irishman (Jason O’Mara) who is a guest at the hotel where Dani works as a concierge. The little jealousies and flirtations that texture the characters’ lives add up to little but background color, just as the minor characters at the studio where Carol works also mostly provide opportunities for a few jokes and funny situations. Tig Notaro, for instance, as Cher, finds her comic talent underused, though Demetri Martin, as Louis, the voice-over studio’s baby-faced producer and Carol’s would-be paramour, fares better with a bigger role. He and Bell are charming as an odd couple drawn together by their innate good cheer and ingenuousness.
The comic charm and intelligence of In a World belongs to Bell, who writes, directs, and performs the film literally to insist that it’s time for women’s voices to be heard. Carol winds up achieving her goals thanks to the feminist manipulations of a producer (Geena Davis) who lets her know that while she might not have been the most talented, affirmative action dictates that a woman should voice the Amazon films’ trailers. And that success lets Carol invigorate her voice coaching business, in which she gathers young women afflicted with unfortunate Valley Girl cadences to train them how to sound, as well as act, authoritative in the world.
In a World happily wears its feminism on its sleeve, insisting on the importance of hearing women’s voices in powerful, visible public venues. Hear, hear.
The Feminist Spectator