***This week’s guest post is from Frank Cavillo, our go-to guy for all things film appreciation.***
As an intern at Austin Film Society, there were very few events I was looking forward to more than our advance screening of “In A World…”. Not only did the film star Lake Bell in her feature writing and directing debut, but it also promised to be an interesting look into a side of the film industry so often overlooked by the public.
For the last 10 years, Bell has made a definable name for herself as a strong supporting character actress. Her work has shone through in films directed by notable talents such as Nancy Meyers and Ivan Reitman and featuring top actors including Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Ashton Kutcher. Her ability to play a range of archetypes from an icy trophy wife to a goofy co-worker have not gone unnoticed, so it was literally only a matter of time before she was able to create a showcase for herself. With “In a World…”, Bell has carved out not only one of the best female lead roles of the year, but has also crafted one of the most impressive feature writing/directing debuts of recent years.
At the Q&A session after the film, Bell described her film as “a 93 minute audition as a voiceover artist.” It sounds funny, but in reality, she was partially telling the truth. Bell recounted her childhood where her talent for mimicry and dialects was evident. When she was old enough she made her way to Hollywood with aspirations of becoming a voice-over artist. She assumed that since every young hopeful was there to make it onto the big screen, that breaking into the voiceover industry would be a cinch. Sadly, she was wrong as she came up against a variety of barriers which slowly led to her accept a number of acting jobs, leading to her success in character work. “In A World…” is not only a recounting of her early desire to make it in the voiceover industry, but its also an acknowledgment of the industry itself. “Everyone in the world watches trailers,” Bell commented at the screening. “Everyone.”She’s right, but how many actually give a second thought into those who have dedicated their lives to the art. Many people (myself included) have a habit of going on trailer binges; devouring one after the other; marveling at their creativity and style. “In A World…” in turn presents the role of trailer narrator as one of great significance and meaning. When the opportunity arises to narrate an upcoming trailer for a Cameron Diaz-led vehicle about female warriors, Bell’s Carol, her former voice-over artist legend Sam (Fred Melamed) and his rich, self-absorbed protégé Gustav (Ken Marino) all compete for the job. Each one’s desire and determination looks to outdo the other as does their individual motivations. It’s a telling sequence in the film and a new perspective on an art so often taken for granted amongst millions of moviegoers.
Adding to this is the feminist statement Bell adds into the film. From the offset, when Sam tells his daughter that she will not succeed in the world of voicing trailers because she is female, he is not necessarily being sexist, but rather highlighting a sad, true fact. This makes Carol’s struggle and desire to succeed even greater. Thankfully the movie’s feminist aspects aren’t presented as in your face as they could be, but rather Bell lets the message wash over the audience in a less up-front manner all the way through until one of the film’s later scenes featuring Carol and movie producer Katherine Huling (Geena Davis.) Though Davis’ role is only two scenes long, it is sure to spark some interesting conversations about feminism and the role of women in the industry. When asked following the screening, Bell described it as a happy accident, but the casting of Davis is telling given the actress’ latter-day work as the founder of an institute specializing in the representation of women in today’s media-driven world. Its truly a symbolic move and perhaps the film’s most feminist statement.
Beyond just a commentary on the voice-over industry, the film also proves to be one of the most refreshing romantic comedies in years. Sub-plots including Carol’s crush on a sound engineer named Louis (Demitri Martin), Sam’s relationship with a young blonde (Alexandra Holden) and the troubled marriage of Carol’s sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and Dani’s husband Moe (Rob Cordry) may seems like distractions on paper, but Bell has written three distinct couples; each one representing differing sides of 21 st century relationships. The scenes between each couple is full of hilarity, but also moments of true honesty and complexity. While these sub-plots may stray from the initial message of “In A World…”, they also give new life and renewed faith into a genre fraught with clichés.
At the end of the screening, a somewhat emotional Bell remarked how she couldn’t believe that something she had worked so hard and long on had finally made it to the screen and how that it was just at that moment that the reality of what she had set out to accomplish was finally a reality. Its not every day an actress more or less relegated to the supporting sidelines gets the chance to make a telling statement about a male-dominated industry that also doubles as a unique romantic comedy. You could say she’s earned a moment or two of sentimentality.