I love voices and accents. I like to hear them, I like to do them, and it’s always better when they’re good. So often someone will try on a British accent and sound like they’re recovering from a stroke. “Wha ow, govnae.” I can’t really communicate the inflection. Don’t worry, Rob Corddry is on the case in In a World… (2013). Not that it’s about him. In a World… is about the vocal industry, the title coming from the epic trailer introduction “In a world, where everyone has gone bald, one man must…” and so on. And if you’ve read that to yourself in the epic voice, it probably sounded deep and rich and male. But why is that? Why is film, falling quickly to many preconceptions about gender roles, holding out on this relatively innocuous bit of marketing? Like any problem of which I was completely unaware, I’m inclined to wonder whether it still exists, but for the purposes of explaining the movie, let’s assume that it does.
Back in the olden times, a man named Don LaFontaine took over the voice-over industry with his beautiful brassy pipes. He narrated hundreds of commercials and trailers in roughly twenty years. Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed) was always something of the number two guy and, now Don’s died, has become something of the elder statesman in the field, taking Gustav Warner (Ken Marino) under his wing. Sam’s daughter Carol (Lake Bell) is very much outside the safety of that wing but still under his shadow. He’s gotten together with a young groupie (Alexandra Holden) and kicked Carol out of the house, forcing her to move in with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her husband Moe (Rob Corddry). She’s a freelance vocal coach, helping actors like Eva Longoria to not sound like cockney pirates. When Carol stumbles into a gig for a movie trailer, everything in her life changes and she’s pushed into a very hostile work environment.
In a World… has been pushed mostly as the feature debut for writer/director Lake Bell with plenty of indie cred. That’s understandable because it’s relatively difficult to promote it on any other account. Not because it isn’t good, because it is very very good, but because it is a solid, sympathetic comedy with the merest nod to the rom-com genre. In this market, where does a movie like that find a place? That genre-space has basically been supplanted by good television. People still like these movies and I am certainly a man of the people. I was listening to an interview with Mark Duplass and he was saying how his movies don’t do very well in theaters, but they kill in DVD sales. That’s likely what will happen with In a World… with DVD and VOD sales. Or at least I hope it does. It’s one of those really pleasant movies that anyone can enjoy. But nobody dies, is a superhero, or poops in a sink. How can you sell a movie like that? Watch the trailer.
I saw this a few days ago and have reflected two minor qualms. The first is a little too integrated into the plot to describe generically so as to avoid revelations. I’ll just say that someone makes a comment about Carol as a narrator in a way that disparages her without showing us why. If I can presume to call this movie feminist or egalitarian in messaging, I would have liked there to be no hollow points in the argument. In a World… isn’t pounding tables or lighting hair on fire, don’t get that impression. It’s a story first. But this is an opening into a very large and meaningful conversation about gender roles in the media and the scene I’m hedging around is crucial. The second qualm is that the story pushes the idea of trailer narration as both silly and expansive when I think it’s mostly silly. Perhaps I’ve just tuned them out, but I don’t think many trailers are narrated any more. Even if they are, aren’t there some female voices doing them? I don’t know… I don’t think it matters.
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Okay, I want to explain Bridesmaids (2011) because it might look like I’m being reductive. The relationship difficulties for the main character are roughly similar.