An Endearing Take on the Sexist World of Film Trailers

Director: LAKE BELL/2013

I was fortunate enough to have been a part of a screening for the new film In a World, that included a Q & A with the writer/director/producer and lead actress Lake Bell.  While the trailer for this film indicates a movie that deals with the glass ceiling for women in the voice-over industry of Hollywood, it actually is much more.  For a small dramatic-comedy, this film is finding a way to take on some large issues such as family dysfunction, pride, sexism, life calling, and love.

In a World is the story of the voice-over business.  Specifically, the voice talents responsible for creating the rich, vibrant, tones that seek to sell us a film as we watch a two-minute trailer.  This part of the Hollywood film industry is a small boys club that caters to big egos, with lots of internal politics. The king of this club was Don Lafontaine who coined the phrase “In a World…” as the catch-phrase for these giant, larger-than-life, epic films.  With his passing, the phrase was retired, as no one in the industry wanted to touch it out of respect to his legendary voice.

Sam Soto is the now the elder statesman of the industry, following Don’s passing, and he is grooming Gustav Warner as his protege.  Conflict ensues when Sam’s daughter, Carol Solomon, tries to get her father to pull some strings to help her break into the industry and compete for the job of doing a movie trailer for a new film set to bring back the classic catch-phrase.  Her father, while decrying that he is not being sexist goes on to belittle Carol because she is a woman trying to work in a man’s world.  He also kicks her out of the house so he can allow his 30-something girlfriend to move in.  The contrast of his claims and his actions is vividly demonstrated. As a result, Carol finds herself crashing with her sister Dani, and her husband Moe, while trying to pursue her dreams and balance the relationships in her life.

In the question and answer session we had following the screening, Lake Bell indicated that one thing that fascinated her with the idea of sexism in the industry wasn’t just going up against the good-ole boys club, but that women were many times much more complex contributors to this glass ceiling.  Some women, she related, will help other women succeed because they understand how daunting it can be to be such a relative minority in an industry such as this.  Other women, she said, have the attitude that “I had to claw my way up the ladder, so you’re going to have to, too!”.  In the film, this dynamic plays out with Carol’s interaction with Katherine Huling, played by always welcome Geena Davis.  Katherine is responsible for choosing a voice talent to do the trailer for a new epic film which is set to resurrect the famous catch-phrase “In a World…”.  Though it is a small role, the dynamic between Carol and Katherine sums up the struggle women have as they try to break the glass ceiling.

This film was made on a budget of less than one million dollars, according to Bell in our Q & A, which is incredibly small by most standards.  All of the money is up on the screen and is money well spent.  Shot in only 20 days, Lake Bell does a solid job directing her first full-length film.  The supporting cast is absolutely brilliant.  Rob Corddry, Fred Melamed, Michaela Watkins, and Ken Marino play each of their respective parts with a grounded realism that makes the comedy work.  Rob Corddry gets a few scenes to really shine.

Sometimes the humor of In a World is subtle, and sometimes it snaps.  Nick Offerman has a wonderfully quirky, yet subdued role as well that is a departure from his Ron Swanson character in Parks and Recreation and that of the DEA agent he played in We’re the Millers.

There is no polish here regarding the Hollywood industry, and it is refreshing to see Lake Bell present her character, Carol, as someone who is in the industry, but not swept up by the facade the industry operates behind. This is seen both in her awkwardness in relationships as contrasted by the way Hollywood romance is typically portrayed.  It is also seen in a scene where she must get dressed up to go to a swank Hollywood party, but calls a cab as she arrives so she can go home and simply put on a pair of sweatpants and be normal.

And while sexism is a main driver here, the issue of pride seems to be the narrative with a stronger current throughout the film.  Pride can well up in anyone’s life regardless of gender.  It affects family relationships, friendships, and even romantic interests.  Pride is what pushes people on, but also what can cause them to sabotage all they hold dear.  And in this film, this is a thread that clearly resonates in the lives of all involved.  Alexandra Holden, who plays Mimi, Sam’s 30-something girlfriend, ironically is the moral center of this film as it relates to pride, despite the tension her character arc puts on Carol, Dani, and their dad.

In a World is a contrast to all of the big budget films it will be competing with in that it provides a subtle, yet funny look at an industry we know about, but few understand fully.  It’s about pursuing what you love.  And it’s obvious that this is a great labor of love for Lake Bell who wrote, directed, produced, and stars in this small but fun comedy. And yet despite the light-hearted subtlety of this film, it actually addresses many deep, and real issues that so many of us experience but may not always know how to deal with.  And it does it with the best medicine of all: humor.