' ' Cinema Romantico: In A World...

Monday, August 26, 2013

In A World...

For every Bigelow and Coppola (Sofia) and Lumet (Jenny, screenwriter of “Rachel Getting Married”) there are likely dozens of females in Hollywood whose true voices remain muffled when they deserve to be heard. It’s a problem, and as has been put forth in varying platforms in just the past few months why not allow more women a chance to helm the superhero tentpoles and blockbusters and genre work in-between? I understand the argument – after all, if the majority of these movies are being made by mere hired guns, why not give women a crack?

On the other hand, the argument concerns me because it seems a waste to want women focusing their voices on those stories when they could be telling their stories. Then again, it can be difficult for anyone – female or male – to tell their stories in Hollywood. So, what to do? Well, to quote one of the greatest of all female warriors, the singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis, you rise up with fists.

Lake Bell has risen up with fists. Her career as an actress has been limited to TV work and supporting parts in weak-kneed rom coms like “No Strings Attached” and “Over Her Dead Body.” Apparently she’d had enough and determined to do something about it. She is the writer and director of “In A World…” as well as its star, though do not confuse her multiple hats for a vanity project. She willingly and ably crafts herself an awkward, unsure and stagnated character named Carol Solomon (“barely” 31), who is also both amiable and heroic in such a way as to connote the stops and starts of real life. In the midst of surfing couches across Los Angeles, she is a dialect coach to movie stars but on the verge of accidentally stumbling into her dream job.

She is the protagonist but she is not the center of attention, nobly and consistently ceding the spotlight to a stable of skillful co-stars (and providing dynamite lines for all to recite). Consider Michaela Watkins as Bell’s sibling Dani. Their relationship – “Sister Code” – is brought to life with such lucidity I could go for a whole other film just about those two.

They are daughters of Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed), a legend in the movie voiceover industry, on the verge of earning a lifetime achievement award, and determined to land the job enunciating the trailer for an adaptation of a best-selling tween book about heroic Amazonian warriors. His direct competition, however, is not just baritone Gustav Werner (Ken Marino) but Carol. And his willingness to square off in the voiceover ring with his own flesh and blood is subtly indicative of the sexism pulsing through the streets of Tinseltown. Not only that, it is indicative of a man in love with the sound of his own voice who has never taken the time to listen to the voices of his children.

Voices, in fact, are the overall focal point of “In A World…” Dani is married to Moe (Rob Corddry), a long-running union we are introduced to mid-argument. It’s the sort of argument where you don’t necessarily even hear the complaint the other person is voicing – complaint is merely the default mode, settle in and complain back. Louis (Demetri Martin) is an audio engineer who can make anyone’s voice crackle but can never manage to use his own voice to tell Carol he has eyes for her. The too-young girly-girl that Sam has taken up with eventually reveals her squeaky baby voice is masking an inherent sweetness. Carol carries a tape recorder with her everywhere, stealthily documenting all manner of accents in order to master them, illustrating how, in the end, the film foremost quest is her attempt to find her own voice.

Piled high with characters and screwball situations, it is a busy and hectic film without feeling overstuffed or rushed. Bell’s direction may not break new ground but she is adept at juggling numerous characters on screen at once without rendering confusion. The whole film pulses with a lifeblood rare to the movies. You can envision all these characters living their lives leading up to the film’s start and continuing to lead them after the film ends as opposed to ciphers on hooks put on display for the requisite hour-and-a-half. Heck, it’s so intent on staying true it bravely undercuts Carol’s moment of triumph with a startling confession delivered by an actress in a brilliantly knowing cameo. Not that it dampens her enthusiasm or ours by that point. Carol has already located the accent of her own life, and Lake Bell has thrown down the gauntlet.

Hey Hollywood, can you hear her now?


Anonymous said...

Hi Nick! Glad someone else saw this film ahah. I saw this at MSP film fest and thoroughly enjoyed it! It's hilarious and delightfully quirky. Lake Bell's definitely a talent to watch for! I hope she does more films in the future.

– ruth

Nick Prigge said...

Yes! Happy to hear this, Ruth. It baffles me that this one isn't getting more attention in the blogosphere. I just enjoyed it top to bottom.