In a World … | Lake Bell | August 9, 2013
Update: We recently got to sit in for an interview with Lake Bell, you can read the full story here
Some eighty years after ending gender discrimination at the polls, and forty or so years after agreeing that women deserved equal opportunities in the workplace, it seems as though the 2010s may be the decade that men realize that women can be funny as well. The struggle of a woman to find a route of expression in a male dominated industry lies at the heart of writer/director Lake Bell’s debut feature, In a World … Using the oft overlooked world of voice-over as a backdrop, Bell has delivered a film that is an important social satire without the snobbish condescension which that designation may imply.
The film introduces the audience to the competitive world of Hollywood movie trailer voice-overs with a reel of footage depicting Don LaFontaine, the recently deceased patriarch of “in a world …” movie teasers. That opening footage seamlessly transitions to faux news show interviews with actors Fred Melamed and Ken Marino in character playing fictional voice acting legend Sam Soto and his protege Gustav respectively. This opening montage establishes Bell’s take on the little known voice acting world and thrusts her characters into that world believably, cementing in place a tone and realism that follows through the rest of the film.
Cut to Carol Solomon (Bell), a vocal coach and aspiring voice actress, daughter to current don capo of voice actors Sam Soto (Melamed). The early scenes between Bell and Melamed introduce the familial conflict which forms one of the legs that the rest of the flick stands upon. After some brief mincing of words, and some terrifically paced dialogue on Bell’s part, Sam informs his daughter that he is kicking her out of the house, warning that the world isn’t looking for women in voice-overs. It is this gender biased admonition that forms the crux of In A World’s familial and industrial conflict.
The plot goes onto follow Carol as she splits time between her new living arrangements with her sister, and her career coaching actors which quickly burgeons to Carol landing legitimate voice-over jobs.
Similarly to her character’s development as a voice actor, Bell’s talent as a director really comes through in relation to her cast of actors. Many of whom come into In A World … with the built in chemistry of their shared background in the Childrens Hospital comedic family, to which Lake Bell belongs. Childrens Hospital creator Rob Corddry takes a turn for normalcy as Carol’s brother-in-law, Gary. Fellow CH cast mate Ken Marino enters familiar territory as competing voice actor and somewhat likeable chauvinist, Gustav. For me, Tig Notaro’s appearance as Carol’s co-worker Cher was a highlight. Notaro’s droll witticisms and dated words of wisdom kept the laughs coming when Bell is not directing her lens inwardly at Carol’s family.
The family plot line is kept strong both by the inherited Childrens Hospital chemistry as well as an organic seeming familial geniality and animosity between Bell and Melamed. As I noted before, Bell’s talent for writing and directing (the script landed her an award at Sundance this past year) shines in her ability to push her actors in new directions while playing up their talents and reigning in on what may be some of their characteristic indulgences. Take Corddry’s Gary, who is perhaps the actor’s most human performance to date. The typically exaggerated actor never seems confined here, instead Bell gives him the opportunity for dramatic expression when his character’s wife (Carol’s sister, Dani) is revealed to have been unfaithful. Like any good comedian, Bell finds humor in the affair, telling her cinematic sister (Michaela Watkins), “You’re not going to win any fans saying ‘he tried to put in the tip but I didn’t let him.’”
It’s scenes like that which showcase Bell’s ability to deftly dance between emotive states, both as an actress and a director. Stylistically and tonally, In a World … is more akin to the early episodes of Scrubs than it is to Corddry’s Childrens Hospital. Like those old episodes of Scrubs, Bell’s breakthrough film achieves equilibrium between drama and comedy, while telling a story that is as much about careers as it is about family. One noted and relatable touch is Carol’s Family’s argumentative mantra “You always do this…” Touches like this make the film breathe with a reality that is missing from many an indie farce.
This is a film about a family’s ability to break out of that “you always do this” mentality, and also a woman’s ability to find a role in a male dominated industry. Later on in the film, Geena Davis makes a surprise appearance as a big time Hollywood marketer. In a brief monologue, Davis reminds Carol (and the viewer) of the small part she is playing in the bigger machinery of global women’s liberation. Davis’ monologue is as close as the movie gets to directly communicating its miniscule role in the larger picture while at the same time stressing every small step’s necessity.
In a World … is a remarkably solid first step for Lake Bell, an impressive feat for an actress and first time writer/director. It is brave step into a comedy market still commandeered by Apatow’s boys club, and an illuminating look at the world of Hollywood voice-overs. And in the bigger picture, a step towards equality that is heart-warming and challenging without being preachy. Despite the comedy world’s receding alienation of women, In A World succeeds with its important message without becoming alienating in itself by putting down the hatchet of its ideals.