The pleasures afforded by IN A WORLD are basic, but they are not insignificant. They are those of a good idea skillfully realized, and of an unfamiliar world revealed through exceptionally smart storytelling. That world is the Hollywood voiceover industry, and the idea was to make a movie about it from the perspective of its more marginalized voices, the women’s.
The sonorous male tones of the preview announcer, the TV commercial, the political advertisement are easy to conjure in our memory. It is harder, although we feel that we have heard them, to remember the women selling the product or creating the dread that makes us buy tickets to a thriller. There is the woman’s voice on the telephone telling us what buttons to press, or from the GPS directing us to turn right, but that is the most that comes readily to mind.
IN A WORLD takes us into the small universe of voiceover practitioners, its intergenerational rivalries, petty politics, sexism, workplace romances, and family feuds. Lake Bell, always an immensely appealing television actor, had the good idea to write, direct and star in the film, and smartly focuses on the human drama that surrounds and feeds into the intriguing professional world she opens a window on. There is no need to recount the plot in detail; it is about human relationships, family, friend, and romantic, as much as it is about the story’s hook, which is who, man or woman, will fill the slot previously filled by the male announcer whose voice once opened trailers in the nation’s cinemas with the deeply intoned, overdramatized come-on, “In a world … . ”
The acting is comfortable and welcoming. Bell’s own is distinguished, as I would have expected, by intelligence as well as emotional reality and her idiosyncratic brand of attractiveness. She ends up competing for the job with her own father, who can’t reconcile himself to the changes in the world that would give such a plum position to a woman.
The film’s one mistep, to my mind, was the way in which Bell’s achievements are undercut by the final lines put in the mouth of Geena Davis, the producer who decides which artist will be awarded the coveted opportunity to intone “In a world … “, in, as fate would have it, the trailer for an action film with female protagonists. What she says to Bell, after the decision has been made, seems contrived rather than convincing (whether or not it reflects the social truth of the matter), and Davis’ character comes off as a little nasty, in a stereotypical sort of way. It’s the only sour note in an otherwise affecting, interesting, and thoroughly likable film.
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