If you’ve heard more than a couple of movie trailers made prior to 2008, you’ve probably heard the voice of Don LaFontaine and his famous phrase “In a World….” If you haven’t, go Google some so that we’re all on the same page. Or just watch this film, because it opens in an almost documentary fashion, showcasing the man himself and his unfortunate death, as well as the phrase’s disuse in recent years, as nobody was thought worthy to steal it from him. All of this is relatively true to the real world, but the film then moves into a fictional one.
In this fictional place, the leading voice-over actor for movie trailers is a man named Sam Soto (Fred Melamed). He has a daughter, Carol (Lake Bell, also writer, producer, director), who lives at home with him. She’s a vocal coach struggling to get out from her father’s shadow — and is helped out in one of the first scenes by being kicked out and having to live with her sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her sister’s husband, Moe (Rob Corddry).
After much chance, circumstance, and plot which doesn’t really matter, she finds herself competing with both her father and an up-and-coming voice actor, Gustav (Ken Marino), for the opportunity to voice the trailer for the upcoming Amazon Games quadrilogy. Before this, we get some family drama, relationship troubles, Hollywood satire, feminism ideals, and a whole host of other ideas that Lake Bell has crammed into her screenplay. One of the film’s problems might just be that it has too much to say and only 90 minutes with which to say it.
It’s a pretty good premise, isn’t it? When was the last time you heard a female do the voice-over work for a movie trailer? I can’t think of one. It’s possible that the early portions of In a World… are quite realistic, in that if you are a female you aren’t even going to get a shot at the job. There are some scenes at the end that point in this direction, too. The film doesn’t have any trouble making its points, and if what you want is a behind-the-scenes view of the voice-over world — from the perspective of a woman — then In a World… will certainly please.
If you’re looking for a compelling drama or comedy, you might be a bit more disappointed. There are some moments of humor — primarily in the satirization of the industry — scattered throughout, but the film as a whole goes through awfully long period of dead time in terms of laughter. Its drama fares no better. While there are some important issues tackled, mostly in the form of familial relations, the characters are all so unbelievable that it holds little weight.
This is incredibly apparent in the lead character of Carol, who plays the whimsical and quirky oddball that indie movies seem to like so much. In the middle of a conversation, she’ll pull out a recording device and start taping someone. Sometimes she’s not even part of the conversation, and she’ll just record people. There’s a reason that this character isn’t often the lead; it’s because it grows tiresome after a short period of time, and doesn’t allow for a necessary weight to the dramatic element of the film.
Without that, it’s hard to care whether or not Carol gets the job at the end of the film. she’s so odd and has no consistent emotional response to the stimuli surrounding her that we don’t even think she’ll care that much. You watch her ho-hum her way through the picture and it becomes clear that, while we should root for her to win the job, break the sexist and prejudiced way in which voice-over actors are chosen, and so on, it’s so difficult to do.
I think perspective is part of the issue. We’re seeing most of the film through Carol’s eyes, but she seems weird even from her own point of view. Everyone else can seem odd to the main character, but she shouldn’t, even if she is. The unsporting characters aren’t a whole lot better in this area than Carol, but that’s why they’re supporting characters. They’re allowed to be odd and quirky and not be detrimental to the film’s drama.
This isn’t to say that the film is without worth, or even that you shouldn’t see it. It’s a pleasant movie, it has some interesting subjects, it is filled with ideas, you won’t see much else like it, and there definitely are some laughs to be had. It’s also endearing and showcases a real talent in Lake Bell. I hope it makes its money back so that she can make another movie. She has talent, but with In a World… she took a couple of missteps that keep her directorial debut from being mostly a success. It’s easily watchable but it’s also not something you need to see without a vested interest in this part of the industry.
As an exploration of the voice-over industry and as a satire of the sexual politics within Hollywood, as well as an exploration on familial relations, In a World… is a success. It’s a warm, occasionally funny movie that has more ideas than it knows what to do with. It is less successful when it is trying to make you care about its characters instead of its ideas, as they’re all so quirky and unbelievable, leading to a disconnect with them. This is a film most worth watching if you care about the industry.