Male dominance, obsessive egocentrism, and ruthless competitiveness have always been a part of Hollywood’s paradigm. Whether comically or dramatically stated in numerous Hollywood features (Get Shorty, Swimming with Sharks, etc.), these fictionalized cinematic expressions pull the curtain of the male monopolized industry. In addition to the collection is actress’ Lake Bell’s feature directorial debut In a World… — a quirky peek behind the scenes of the male dominated voice- over industry. The Sundance Best Original Screenplay winner written, directed, and performed by Bell is a tribute to the late voice actor, the notorious Don LaFontaine “The Voice” as well as it is a feminist take on the struggles female voice actresses undergo in the industry.
Carol (performed by Bell herself) is a laid- back 27-yer-old voice-over coach with no clear direction in life who still lives with her father Sam (Fred Melamino) — a dinosaur in the voice-over industry (in the film and in real life) whose arrogance and keenness are beyond reach. Before kicking her out of his home (so he can have some privacy with his girlfriend Jamie who is about Carol’s age), he once again makes certain to reassure his daughter that “The industry does not crave a female sound.”
Bursting out of her father’s house in her most comfortable jumper suit and a cowboy shirt, Carol accidentally finds herself auditioning for an upcoming film epic trilogy “The Amazon Games”, snatching the job from under the nose of Sam’s protégé Gustav (Ken Marino) whose temporary voice loss has prevented him from auditioning for the part. Finding out that he is replaced by a “broad,” Gustav refuses to swallow his pride and the battle of the sexes begins.
Crashing on the couch at her uptight sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her adorable happy-go-lucky brother-in-law Moe (Rob Corddry) Bell’s tumbling heroine acquires the allies much needed for her “battle.” And to utilize them better, Bell wisely uses the married couple’s personal drama (Dani’s brief romance tempted by a manipulative Hollywood male movie star) as a subplot in the film, mirroring Carol’s fling with the persuasive Gustav (who feels entitled not only to every gig in town but to any female flesh that comes across) – both putting an emphasis on the film’s feminist subject. And to make her “scoop of message” bigger, better, and louder, the ambitious filmmaker sets “The Amazon Games” not anywhere else but In a World… where the power is given to a group of women warriors who take over the male society.
In Carol’s world, however, whether the bad characters are really bad, or the good ones are too good to be true, she is always neutral. Her passive approach, low self-confidence, and lack of determination make her more of a victim than a warrior. Heavily relying on the coincidence and the good faith of characters such as Louis (performed by a stand-up comedian Demetri Martina who plays the role of a humble sound manager at the sound recording studio where Carol voice-coaches occasionally and who happens to have a crash on her), Bell seems to rob her quirky drama of its realism. Carol’s benevolence and perkiness are indeed captivating, welcoming others like her in her life, yet, realistically, such qualities are incompatible for those seeking success In a World… so corrupted. Unless the director’s objective approach is to remind the viewer that Hollywood is not a one way street and that good-hearted people still exist in the land of dreams, achieving their goals in their own naive way.
As much as the story appears loose (due to the fact that the main character slouches through on her path to victory without much drive), so is the dialogue. Delicately coated with clever humor, the quirky lines (perfectly suiting the exceptional comedic cast) roll out spontaneously, allowing the audience to immerse in the world of the story, without being left out as a listener to a late night radio comedy show. Here just like her under-achieving heroine, Bell still grasps the attention of the audience (and obviously that of the Sundance jury) with her crafty lines without pushing too hard.
In addition to her scriptwriting craft, there is something to be said about Bell’s directing skills. Not only that she convincingly transforms into her character when out of the director’s chair (a huge challenge for most directors who are likely to be outperformed by their cast), but she knows how to make her actors comfortable as well. By implementing some sort of action during the line exchanges in each scene — whether munching on string cheese or accidentally dropping toast on the floor — the assigned occupations act as a humor booster for the punch lines as well as they contribute to the spontaneity in the actors’ performances.
Yet one of the most admirable components in the film remains its purpose. Along with the feminist “scoop of message” and its exposure of the vicious reality existing in the voice over industry, In a World… appears as more of an objective piece bringing great admiration to the hard work of the voice over professionals whose behind-the-scene achievements are often taken for granted.