Written for Spoonfed. Originally published on 25 April, 2013
Lake Bell does a Ben Affleck and does it well.
Lake Bell, who is the queen of supporting roles, has done what a lot of performers secretly want to do and carved a sharp, clever central role for herself in a highly polished film. Writing, directing and staring in In A World..., Bell has done a Ben Affleck but unlike that douche, she’s done it incredibly well. Deft, witty and warm with hardly a hint of ego, she casts herself as a sweet but lost voiceover artist and freelance voice coach struggling to find work.
We meet her character Carol, as her ageing father (Fred Melamed) is caustically kicking her out of his home. She then dumps her life in the living room of her sister Dani and brother-in-law Moe. Keep up with the names, there’s a sprawling, sit-com family at the heart of this romantic comedy drama which, through “sexy baby” voices and bizarre cameos from Cameron Diaz, Eva Longoria and a bitchy turn from Gena Davis, turns out to be something to do with the empowerment of women.
But thankfully, Bell waits till the end to really knock you on the head with that. Most of the way through the film, she draws a picture of the voiceover industry: the type of work available, the callous competition and the preference for strong male voices. Carol’s father Sam is THE voiceover man, filling the gap left by the death of Don LaFontaine.
Legend of the industry, he hasn’t auditioned in years and is about to win a lifetime achievement award. Now he’s graciously passing the torch to younger, hotter thing Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), who’s in direct competition with Carol. Add to this the huge chip on Sam’s shoulder about losing his place as THE man, Carol’s one night stand with Gustav and the sweet but shy editor who’s in love with her, and you have a whole lot of issues spinning dangerously close to each other.
Remarkably, Bell writes and directs them all with brilliantly observed humour, strong characters and a good amount of gender politics. That is, not overbearing but emerging quite naturally from her subject matter, which she takes with a big pinch of salt. There’s only the “sexy baby” voice issue that lets the film down.
This is the childish voice that some women put on, with that annoying rising intonation at the end, that makes it hard to take them seriously. But Bell is asking the wrong question here. Carol uses her voice coaching skills to get women to stop talking like this but never asks why some women talk like this in the first place.
Nonetheless, I think Bell’s carefully carved characters and the pace of the drama are nigh on perfect. Even the relationship drama, which is hardly gripping, serves to show what kind of person Carol is and she’s pretty damn endearing in an understated, resilient kind of way.