Release: Friday, August 9, 2013 (limited)
If ever you’ve wanted to learn more about the voices behind all those movie trailers you’ve seen, then look no further than In a World…, a glimpse into the industry of voice-overs that’s simultaneously humorous and heartfelt; awkwardly distant, yet fully immersive.
Though it features all fictionalized characters, the film tips its hat to real-life movie trailer voice legend Don LaFontaine, who’s seen in the opening title sequence (in clips of archived footage) doing a few interviews — openly expressing his joy over what it’s like having one of the most recognized voices in the world. This being released almost five years after his passing, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider this film a tribute of sorts to the man behind the iconic voice. His signature phrase “In a world…” functions as an interesting title for director, writer and actress Lake Bell’s new film, as well as it serves as the motif. In the wake of LaFontaine’s death, much debate is fueled over whether that catchphrase should ever be uttered by another person; and if it is to be used again — who should be the next person to follow in his footsteps?
Lake Bell — as if writing and directing this wonderfully entertaining picture wasn’t enough — also stars as Carol Solomon, a young yet frustrated vocal coach who has yet to find her rhythm professionally. She’s first seen trying to make Eva Longoria effect a Cockney dialect for an (obviously staged) voiceover role, and this scene is every bit as humorous as it is intriguing. After her father — acclaimed movie trailer voice Sam Soto (Fred Melamed) — tells her he can no longer support her and that she needs to move out of his place, 31-year-old Carol finds her life at its most disoriented, forced to move in with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her husband (Rob Corddry).
It’s difficult to determine in what capacity Bell excels the most. As an actress, her Carol is whimsical, a little more than socially awkward, and somewhat impulsive. But all of this translates into a rather enjoyable character to watch, especially as you may take note of her increasing confidence — both professionally and personally — as the film develops. As a writer, she might be even better. There is such a natural flow to the way each character acts and interacts with one another; the world she’s created is just charming. In particular, her Carol and the dorky sound engineer that she works with, Louis (Demetri Martin) have an on-again, off-again relationship that is bumbling yet heartwarming. When Louis brings Carol over one night, he insists the two sleep in separate rooms despite the obvious chemistry between them. Louis simply doesn’t want to make things more awkward than they already are; thanks to the strong script, he does. And then as a director. . . .perhaps this is Bell at her most ambitious and distinctive.
The film could have easily been dulled down by focusing on general industry trends, or by trying to make drama out of things that need no drama created for them. Much to her credit, Bell approaches an already interesting subject matter with a rarely-used angle. At the beginning of the 21st Century, the use of female voices for movie trailers was nonexistent, with the exception of the Gone in 60 Seconds trailer back in 2000. Indeed, her character’s own father, along with his equally misogynistic colleague and friend Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), demonstrate the general attitude held by males at the time — in particular, their feelings towards women attempting to earn the same status. Their conversations in the sauna are rather unsettling as they talk business. Men become cruel, uncivilized beasts before our very ears. And because LaFontaine’s line, “in a world…” is suddenly being reconsidered for posthumous use in trailers, fierce competition to become the next individual who gets to say these words is eminent. With an inventive twist, the race to become the number one movie trailer voice becomes even more heated as the identities of the competing voice talents slowly become revealed to each character.
Because the film features a cast playing individuals in an unusual and competitive career, Bell ingeniously decided to give all of her characters peculiarities to match. There’s not a single “normal” person to be found in this quirky world. Perhaps Corddry’s Moe is the closest to such a description (wow, that’s a change). The studio in which Carol works as a vocal coach is filled with weird characters — as previously mentioned, Louis is an odd one as Carol’s secret admirer; Nick Offerman makes a brief appearance as a studio manager (?) and well, yeah, you can just color your own imagination with that. . . and then there’s a wonderfully eccentric performance in Tig Notaro‘s Cher, who’s mainly there just for a few laughs. She may be limited but damn is she effective. Even the “villains” who happen to be in Sam Soto and Gustav Warner have peculiar mannerisms and character traits that make them convincingly nasty people. Considering all of this, the overarching film is quite a strange experience, if not delightfully strange.
Although Bell clearly enjoys delving into the mentality of men who are all of a sudden feeling threatened by an empowered woman in their field of expertise, one of the side effects of detailing characters this much becomes clear: the narrative does run away from her towards the end. A couple of romantic subplots veer from the very compelling narrative a few times, and while these are not entirely uncalled for, they become a bit distracting as more and more focus seems to be placed on the relationship aspects. Still, they serve to add a little bit more to the chaos of the lives behind the scenes, which I appreciated personally. I also understand where it detracted more for others and there certainly could have been some cleaning up on Aisle 7 in this department.
One of the larger ironies of this film is that when you go and check out trailers afterwards — specifically for more contemporary releases — you are going to notice a distinct lack of voice over work on the trailers you’re watching. Instead, these days, it’s all about snappier/fancier editing, increasing the frequency of taking scenes out of context for dramatic effect, and replacing what once were voiceovers with text/captions (most of which are some variant on ‘life is a journey’ — that kind of hokey B.S. most of us see right through). It’s fascinating listening to the conversation going on here, and this applies on a number of levels.
Virtually everyone on the planet is exposed to trailers and commercials, and this film provides a rare opportunity to go beyond that and get a glimpse of the dynamics of this particular aspect of the entertainment biz. Thank you, Lake Bell for providing that for us.
Recommendation: It could be easily labeled as a film for a very niched audience. Some might even call it a snooty film for just movie buffs. Forget all of that noise. This is a heartfelt character study as much as it is a spotlight on a rarely-studied industry (at least in terms of mainstream media coverage — when was the last time you saw a documentary on the current voices of TV/film advertisements/trailers?). It is a movie that is both socially and culturally relevant and while it may slide by under most people’s radars, it most certainly shouldn’t. I highly encourage anyone who sees this film on the listing at their local theaters to go check it out.
Running Time: 93 mins.
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