Friday, August 30, 2013

In a World Movie Review

We’re so accustomed to hearing those deep baritone voices intoning the details of the latest blockbuster that we hardly even think about the fact that there’s an actual person behind that voice. The trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian called attention to this and movie trailer voiceover conventions about a decade ago. But then you realized you can’t ever recall hearing a female voice promotion a big Hollywood release. Lake Bell, who wrote, directed, produced, and stars in In a World must have taken note because she came up with an amusing take on a woman’s quest to break through that glass ceiling an swipe voiceover work from a the familiar male voices that have always dominated the industry.

The voiceover industry itself must be a bizarre little subset of Hollywood fame. Of course we recognize big stars when they provide audio life to animated characters. Disney started that trend probably with Robin Williams voicing the Genie in Aladdin and then studios realized they could capitalize on star power in promoting their product. But behind the stars who step in for the occasional big role are those who make a career of lending their pipes to commercials, trailers, and secondary animated characters. In a World gives us entrance to that world, although I can’t be sure of how much is accurate and how much is satirical fantasy. Is there really such a thing as the Golden Trailer Awards where prizes are given for the Best Teaser Trailer? (It turns out the awards actually exist). Regardless, it makes for an ironically satisfying climax when Carol’s (Bell) father receives a lifetimes achievement award for his voiceover work.

Bell makes In a World into a tale of female empowerment viewed through the lens of a mildly satirical look at wannabe Hollywood. Carol wants to work more than anything, but her vocal coaching of stars like Eva Longoria (she’s having some trouble mastering the Cockney accent) isn’t enough to get her out of dad’s house. It’s unfortunate for her that she works in a male-dominated industry and that her father (voice and film actor Fred Melamed, whose bear-like hulking presence imposes itself on everyone around him) happens to be a big player within it – and he doesn’t think a woman will ever achieve what a man will in that field. He puts his energy in support of Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), the next big thing in voiceover talent and possibly the guy who will retake the position once held by the late Don LaFontaine, the legend who coined the titular phrase ubiquitously employed in trailers for so long.

It’s not just that he fails to support the one daughter he has who actually wants to follow in his footsteps, but that he also doesn’t provide much for his eldest daughter, whose transgressions with another man put her marriage in jeopardy. This is a deeply feminist movie that doesn’t treat its male characters like second class citizens. When her husband (Rob Corddry) discovers her infidelity, it is the film’s heaviest and darkest section. His feelings are given equal weight in Bell’s careful screenplay along with the women.

Then she takes the audacious steps in the film’s closing moments of simultaneously digging at faux feminist pop lit like The Hunger Games (the big voiceover job is for the trailer for an adaptation of a fictional book quadrilogy known as The Amazon Games, obviously inspired by Suzanne Collins’ books) and asserting the power of women to subtly impart something subversive on the girls of today by hiring a woman to be the voice of the series. We live in a world where women have more professional opportunities than ever before, but in which the younger generation of women are content to do themselves a disservice by going around sounding like “sexy babies” instead of mature women. That’s great in the bedroom, Carol observes, but not so great for getting that job at a big law firm where you want to demonstrate that you can be the prosecutor to take down big criminals. It’s a world in which teen girls’ heroes having nothing at all to do with real empowerment and professional achievement. Lake Bell has hit on something vitally important if feminism is going to survive the better part of this century. Female millenials take note.

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