Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In a World... (2013)

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.


  1. Haven't got a chance to see it yet, but have heard good things. Good review.

    1. Thanks! I hope you get a chance to see it!

  2. Remind me: Did I hear something wrong, or didn't Geena Davis' character undercut the pop culture phenomenon that 'The Amazon Games' represented. Didn't she say that it's movement within feminism does more harm than good?

    (I could swear she said something to that effect, but can't even come close to quoting it accurately)

    1. Yes she said it was faux-feminist bullshit which it looked like it probably was- like SUCKER PUNCH throwing a bunch of women into infantalizing school uniforms and bondage wear and pretending to be about empowerment. But whatever, I thought THE AMAZING GAMES looked AWESOME.

      But that wasn't really the point, the point was about female representation within voice-over narration, and how that seemingly small thing can have a major effect on public audiences and their perception of gender.

    2. OK, I'm going to have to rewtach this sometime soon, because I wickedly misheard/misunderstood that scene.

      I could have sworn I heard Davis tell her that she thought the film did more harm than good, and didn't even really believe in the statement being made by giving Carol the job. I thought I heard her say "In the end, it just helps me sell more movie tickets and that's all that matters to me"

    3. I don't remember that final statement about selling tickets at all, and I just checked with my boyfriend who saw it with me and he doesn't remember that either.

      Davis said that she didn't think Carol was necessarily the best for the job (which makes sense, it'd be unrealistic for an unseasoned actress to get a major narration part over two more experienced actors), but that she saw it as an important symbol to give Carol the part because she felt it was a positive step forward to have a woman's voice be heard in these high-profile movie trailers.

      At least that's how I remember it!

  3. I just saw it, and there's nothing in that final monologue about ticket sales. Instead the character dismisses the Amazon Games film as a lead-in to describing the fundamental need for strong female voiceovers.

    Voice over artists are used so widely, in films, commercials, announcements, and so-on, that those voices become culturally representative of the qualities they embody, whether those qualities are power, confidence, intelligence, attractiveness, or anything else. So, when the voices in that arena are predominantly male, it creates a skewed perception of how those qualities are distributed between the genders.

    This creates a cultural need for females in the field, a need that both dwarfs the importance of what's being sold, which is repeatedly shown to be a faddish and trite work of fiction, as well as the personal ambitions of the voice over artists themselves. That's what the character is trying to get across with her speech.

    Anyway, I thought it was alright, but I agree that it went way too heavy on the romantic and familial drama at the expense of developing the industry that the main characters works within.

  4. Wanna see that so bad! Sounds really interesting.

    I've nominated you for a blogger award. The link won't be live until 5pm Tuesday though.


    I miss my old film blogging days (I had Final Cut) and would love it if you would check out the film section of my blog or the guest posts I write for aliljoy.