The feminist movement has always been about giving women an equal voice in the public sphere. The first wave was about getting the vote, inheritance rights and the right to be considered a separate being from one’s father and husband. In the subsequent waves, it’s been about claiming reproductive autonomy and being heard in industry, science, politics and the arts.
But in spite of more than a century’s work, many spheres remain resistant to valuing women’s voices, and Hollywood, even with its reputation as a liberal haven, is one of them. “In a World,” written, directed and starring Lake Bell, takes on the male-dominated world of actors who do voice-overs for movie trailers.
Named after deceased movie trailer legend Don LaFontaine’s catchphrase, “In a World” is about a young woman named Carol Solomon (Bell). Carol is a gifted but not very successful vocal coach with a habit of recording any unusual accent she comes across, with or without the speaker’s permission. A typical gig involves teaching Eva Longoria to speak with a Cockney accent. Carol also aspires to do voiceovers.
She lives with her dad, Sammy Soto (Fred Melamed), a famous voice actor and heir-apparent to LaFontaine. Sammy, who is about to get a lifetime achievement award for his work, doesn’t encourage his daughter’s vocal ambitions, telling her the industry has no interest in women. His protegé is a younger voice actor named Gustav (Ken Marino, better known in these parts as Vinnie Van Lowe on “Veronica Mars”), and he promises to support Gustav in his quest for the latest big trailer get: “The Amazon Diaries” quadrilogy, starring Cameron Diaz.
Sammy is also getting serious with his much-younger girlfriend Jamie (Alexandra Holden), and wants her to move in, which means Carol is out. Carol winds up couch surfing at her older sister Dani’s (Michaela Watkins), though Dani, a concierge for a fancy downtown hotel, is having a rocky time with her husband Moe (Rob Cordry).
In spite of the tumult, Carol manages to get a trailer gig when Gustav gets laryngitis, and is thrilled when producers start talking about her being the new voice of “The Amazon Games.” But her success may very well cost her her relationship with her father.
“In a World,” for all its heavier messages (there is a scene where Carol tells a young woman her “sexy baby” voice and her habit of uptalking is adversely affecting her law career, saying “We’re women. We should sound like women.”) is one of those lovely slice-of-life films that just makes you happy at the end.
Bell, who moviegoers may know as the icy second wife in 2009′s “It’s Complicated,” plays Carol with a lot of goofy charm. She’s a bit self-centered and immature, yes, but she’s also that ugly duckling friend you know at some point is going to hatch into a force of nature.
Carol’s relationships with her unhappy sister (an uptight yet nuanced Watkins) and her dad feel very real. She despairs of them. They despair of her. Their love is dysfunctional, but they’re there for each other, and in the end come through.
Melamed is great as Sammy, the veteran chauvinist who fears becoming obsolete. In one scene, he talks about his own father, who always made sure to let his son know he would never surpass him. Now that Sammy is the dad, it at first doesn’t occur to him adopting his father’s outlook with his daughters is the wrong thing to do.
The smaller characters are equally nuanced. Bell could easily have made Sammy’s girlfriend a shrewish gold digger caricature. But Jamie is a very nice person, and even though she sounds like a little girl (and Holden has the requisite wide eyes and blond hair), she is far wiser and more mature than the Soto family.
Even Gustav, who Marino plays with his signature smarm, has a nice side.
Most of all, “In a World,” along with all the other amazing woman-fronted films that have come out this year, including “Frances Ha,” “The Heat,” “The To Do List” and September release, “Wadjda,” show that women’s voices are becoming louder and more common. It’s enough to make any woman proud.