Film review: In a World... (15)

4.00

Rom-coms get a fresh new voice

A low-budget feminist comedy set in the male dominated world of Hollywood movie trailer voice-overs, In a World... is an unexpected delight. Written, produced, directed by and starring the hitherto little-known (at least to British audiences) Lake Bell, the film is smart, funny and affecting.

Bell's screenplay skilfully interweaves satire and family drama. She herself gives an engaging performance as the slightly hapless heroine, which rekindles memories of Catherine Keener in 1990s comedies like Walking and Talking and The Real Blonde or even of Diane Keaton's Annie Hall.

"In a world" is the most famous motto of the most famous voice-over artist of them all. Don LaFontaine was nicknamed "the voice of God" thanks to the trailers and advertisements for thrillers and disaster movies that boasted his sonorous, doom-laden tones. When he died in 2008, there was a power struggle among Hollywood's voice-artists to replace him.

Bell includes archive footage of LaFontaine over the credits of her own film. Her character, Carol Solomon, is an underachieving vocal coach who still lives at home with her domineering father, Sam Soto (Fred Melamed). Soto has established himself as LaFontaine's natural successor. He is quick to undermine his daughter's attempts to break into the business, telling her bluntly that "The industry does not crave a female sound."

In portraying the world of voice-over trailers, Bell's trick is to play it straight. She doesn't need to accentuate the comedy. It's there anyway. The voice-over artists take themselves and their industry absurdly seriously, as if the portentous delivery of a few corny words over a trailer is what makes a film successful. They are intensely competitive with one another.

To reinforce the sense that voice-overs are a man's world, Bell shows us several scenes with the incredibly hirsute and corpulent Soto sweating in the sauna with his sleazy protegé Gustav Warner (Ken Marino). Soto is grooming the younger man to do the voice work for The Amazon Games, a huge new movie franchise.

Carol, meanwhile, has been thrown out of the house to make way for Soto's young Russian girlfriend. She has moved in with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins), who lives in a small apartment with her husband Moe (Rob Corddry) and works as a concierge at an upmarket hotel.

Much of the humour here is barbed and cynical. Bell takes a delight in ridiculing women with squeaky voices who try forlornly to sound sexy but cast themselves as victims in the process. In one droll scene, we see Carol tutoring Eva Longoria on how to say "don't be a stupid slapper" just like an Essex Girl.

However, the film also plays as a sweet-natured romantic comedy. Carol is the voice-over world's answer to the ugly duckling and we know that she will blossom forth in time for the final reel. She has been told frequently by her father that she is no good at anything except funny accents. Carol has such low self-esteem that she doesn't even notice that the mild-mannered sound engineer (Demetri Martin) is besotted with her.

On another level, this is a fraught family drama in which a father can't bear the idea that his child is working in the same industry that he is and may one day eclipse him.

In its weaker moments, In a World... veers closer to a sitcom than a narrative feature film. There are a few too many scenes of characters sitting around in apartments, having zany conversations. At times, for instance when Moe invites the eccentric but glamorous English girl next door to use the shower when her apartment's plumbing breaks down, it's as if we are watching an episode of Frasier. Bell sometimes tries too hard to squeeze the comedy out of her characters' eccentricities rather than advancing the story she is telling. Nonetheless, her directorial style is refreshingly subtle and understated.

In a world where the release schedules are still clogged up by such bombastic blockbusters as Roland Emmerich's idiotic White House Down (also released this week), it is refreshing to encounter well-written US indie movies in which the dialogue matters more than Channing Tatum in his vest. In a low-key way, Bell is also drawing attention to the sexism that still prevails in Hollywood.

For all the resonance of his delivery, Don LaFontaine sounded nothing if not patriarchal. He was the deep-voiced, Moses-like announcer who addressed audiences as if he was speaking to them from on top of the mountain. Bell's film suggests that it doesn't have to be like this. When Geena Davis appears as the producer of The Amazon Games, her message about gender equality in the voice-over world is played for comedy. However, her points about female role models are serious enough.

Bell clearly didn't set out to make a polemic. It's the richness of her screenplay that the film manages to expose the chauvinistic side of Hollywood without undermining its credentials as a witty and caustic romantic comedy. This is Bell's debut feature. It's a mini-triumph that may be hard to trump next time round but that already establishes her as an utterly distinctive voice.

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee