[Review] - In A World...

Courtesy of Team G
I suppose that it's both a symptom of the problems with the system, and a good sign of things to come, that the movies I've been most impressed with this year have been those smaller features from first time directors. It helps that the last two, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon, and Lake Bell's In A World..., were both made by folks how aren't new to the game. They've both been around, seen other people do the job well, and poorly, and took their time with their product. Bell's film lacks the focus of intent that Levitt's did, but make up for a somewhat meandering sight line and lack of substantial plot by being incredibly endearing.

And she had help from some talented friends. Which is never a bad thing.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that never want Ken Marino to suck on their nose.

There isn't much of an "A to B to C" plot to In A World... I'd say it falls closer to a character study, with a thread of connective tissue throughout. It's the story of Carol (Bell), who works as a vocal coach, and aspires to be a voice over actor like her father Sam (Fred Melamed), a contemporary of  Don LaFontaine, whose name is dropped so often and with such reverence that you'd think they were talking about Mother Teresa. Problem is, she's a woman and voice over work is a man's world. It would be easy for the film to, at this point, become very pointed and heavy handed with it's feminist message, but Bell's writing manages to impress the hypocrisy without every getting preachy.

Elsewhere, her father has moved in with his much younger girlfriend (Alexandra Holden), while also acting as mentor to the new hot shot in the voice over industry, Gustav (Ken Marino). Her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and brother in law Moe (Rob Corddry) find their marriage in troubles, in what amounts to little more than plot filler. And her producer (Demetri Martin) is gradually working up the courage to ask Carol out. It takes a while, but it's this last thread that becomes the focus of the film, but resists turning into a out-and-out romantic comedy. Carol's career is always at the forefront of the story, but one audition aside, we never see her working towards her ultimate success. In fact, despite her opinions and aspirations, she is very passive to the entire process, and seems to accidental fall into success more than achieve it.

A sub plot about her sister almost having an affair does little more than give screen time to Rob Corddry, and an equally pointless diversion into Carol's fling with Gustav seems like something that could have been cut. The only reason these scenes exist is so that Bell can show off her considerable comedic charm, and hold her own against heavy weights like Corddry and Marino. In fact, Bell and Corddry's scenes are the funniest and most electric of the film, something that comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen Children's Hospital. Bell has wisely opted to work with her friends on this one, stacking the cast with the people she's met along the way. As such, even the smallest role is filled by someone guaranteed to get a chuckle out of you, even if they've only got a scene or two (Nick Offerman is, as always, worth a special mention in a very minor role; or Stephanie Allynne in a role that seems like it was written for Judy Greer). The way Bell writes personal interactions is fantastic, mixing exposition with a Elmore Leonard-style diction. People mishear and repeat themselves, talk over one another and are generally awkward. And it's delightful. You don't care that there isn't a story moving the film forward, because the characters are just so engaging.

Even Sam, who is easily one of the most despicable characters I've seen on film this year. There is, even in the end, very little to like about Sam, and the way he treats his daughters. He has an ego that comes with success, and when Holden (who really impressed me, even if the Minnesota Nice slipped from time to time) tells him off at the end, it's more satisfying than any fist fight climax from any blockbuster this summer. Gustav is too underdeveloped as a character to be anything other than smarmy, though there are hints that he's a future Sam in the making, in need of significant humbling.

The star though, through and through, is Bell. Her script holds together, her directing style is understated yet informed, and as an actress she is simple adorable. She's been, to this point, largely a supporting actress, resigned to the roll of "Best Friend" or "Attractive Work Colleague." For all the hype around Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, I'll take Bell's abilities over them any day (if you haven't already, you should track down A Good Old Fashioned Orgy). This film should, hopefully, knock Bell up into more starring roles, as she can carry a film with her goofy smile alone. It helps here that she's working with people with whom she has fantastic chemistry, especially Martin, whose nebbish like fawning strikes just the right cord so as never to be annoying, yet always slightly sad.

As to the subject matter, I find voice acting infinitely fascinating, and this film does touch on the politics of advertising, especially in films. Like I said, Don LaFontaine is rightly idolised here, the film's credits rolling over documentary footage of the man with the iron voice, cut in with characters from the film talking about the legend. As a society, we're so focused on the physical, and bombarded with images and advertises, we rarely stop to think about how persuasive a voice can be. Bell comes at it from both sides, with the movie industry's insistence that only a dominating male voice carries the necessary gravitas to influence viewers, and the phenomena known as the "sexy baby voice," a high pitched chipmunk impression affected by young women which, as Carol points out, "might work wonders in the bedroom, but would you want someone arguing a federal case in a voice like that?"

Like Don Jon, it's another way of looking at gender roles, and how people are manipulated, either intentionally or accidentally. And not just gender, but race. Carol is obsessed with dialects for her classes, but the film highlights how easily people can be seduced by a lyrical foreign voice. The most lusted over characters in the film aren't Americans, save Carol, whose range allows her to mimic any accent she wants. That in itself is a message worth exploring, an argument that can be tied into the tendency for British actors to be cast as villains in American films. Equally, Bell touches on the power of a woman's voice, because it isn't perceived to be as powerful as a man's, can be all the more jarring and capable of grabbing attention. That changing the establishment could lead to greater results for everyone. I doubt it will, but might we hope that the success of this film could inspire more studios to look at female voice over actors for their products. That one of the networks might hire a woman to do the promos. Or, at the very least, people might stop making chipmunk noises.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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