Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.
A comedy that combines an exploration of an entertainment niche, multiple Childrens' Hospital castmembers, a Geena Davis cameo, and a female writer/director is just sitting there, waiting for me to love it. And I will tell you right now that I really loved In a World...! Lake Bell's tale focuses on a struggling voice-over actress, Carol (Bell), who fights to overturn the industry's male-dominated conventions. She must compete against her father (Fred Melamed), a voice-over legend, and rising star Gustav (Ken Marino), both of whom believe there is no room for women in the very serious business of narrating epic movie trailers. While she's combating patriarchal standards in her career, her sister and brother-in-law contend with shaky marital morals and general family dysfunction.
I love stories about under-sung and under-promoted jobs or hobbies, because it's always interesting to me to get a glimpse at the passions intrinsic to them, as well as the weirdness that tends to arise within groups of people involved in one specific thing. I've never seen a film about voice-over acting, and I love that Lake Bell chose to make one. She fuses romantic comedy, career exposé, family drama, and feminist commentary into an extremely enjoyable story that I latched onto instantly. The script is riddled with hilarious dialogue aptly handled by seasoned comedians like Ken Marino, Rob Corddry, Tig Notaro, and Bell herself. I loved the industry jokes, which were revealing without being too esoteric. I also, of course, loved the flipping adorable romance between Lake Bell and Demetri Martin. These guys are just cute cute cute and I liked to watch them hang out and try to figure out how dating works. And since this isn't primarily a romantic comedy, they skipped a lot of the annoying tropes of that genre and just sort of fit in all the good parts around the main narrative.
In a World... excels at uncovering deep-seated prejudices and personal problems without seeming preachy or melodramatic. Bell explores the discomfort of a family strained by a father's ego and a mother's overdose, along with the ridiculous but completely realistic sexism run rampant in the entertainment industry. She takes a seemingly frivolous pursuit- three actors competing to narrate a new epic movie trailer- and gives it weight by reminding the audience how important representation is, how even just hearing the same deep male voice over and over in commercials and film trailers can affect how gender is perceived. This is done primarily through a fantastic appearance by Geena Davis, whose Institute on Gender in Media works to encourage equal representation and reduce stereotyping in films and tv. She essentially plays a version of herself, here a producer who wants to hear a female voice in movie trailers because it could have a ripple effect on women's roles in the future. It's a small moment but an important one, as it brings up issues that aren't always apparent to the casual viewer.
While generally I found this film to be pretty great, it is of course not perfect. Lake Bell wore overalls way too often, for one. I kind of wanted more of the actual voice-over stuff, since there was a little more focus on personal drama than I expected. Also it's too bad that this is set in a world with only white people? Pretty weird, but mostly just sad that a movie about fighting for equal representation in media only features white people in any given scene except that one with Eva Longoria. I'm sure they could have made room for one or two hip indie comic actors of color, it's not that difficult.
But ok I really loved this movie, it's the kind I wanted to watch again the minute it ended. It just gave me the warm fuzzies.
Pair This Movie With: The messy, unfocused character of Carol and her gathering of self-determination reminded me of another 2013 favorite, Frances Ha. Alternatively, I think another movie about a lady working her way into a male-dominated thing would be a good pairing, maybe something like Girlfight. For more about women's role in the media (and Geena Davis), check out Miss Representation.