Heard but not seen

From L-R actors Alexandra Holden, writer/director Lake Bell, Fred Melamed

From L-R actors Alexandra Holden, writer/director Lake Bell, Fred Melamed

In A World… (MA 15+)

There’s an odd prologue to this review. Lake Bell’s (Childrens Hospital) debut as a feature film-maker is being released in Australia just weeks after an event that echoes the plot of the film.

In A World… takes its inspiration from the death of Don LaFontaine, the movie trailer voiceover artist whose gruff pronunciation of the famous words “in a world” preceded almost every movie premise you could care to name.

In Bell’s script, LaFontaine’s death creates a power vacuum within the small community of voiceover actors in Hollywood, each vying to replace him.

Then, on 13 March 2014, the news broke that LaFontaine’s rival Hal Douglas, who was also strongly associated with the famous phrase, had himself died.

The clever insight of Bell’s story is to highlight how the basso profundo utterance so popular with film trailers contains the hidden word “man’s”. Bell stars as Carol, the daughter of famous voiceover actor Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed), who is breezily dismissive of her ambitions to enter the boys club of voiceovers.

Following LaFontaine’s death, rumours circulate that the titular phrase is to be revived for a new blockbuster series The Amazon Games (an on-the-nose pastiche of The Hunger Games).

Sotto decides to throw his weight behind the up-and-coming voice actor Gustav Warner (Ken Marino) to succeed LaFontaine. Warner, a spoiled rich kid who entered the profession of voice acting as an indulgence, irritates frustrated studio producer Louis (comedian Demetri Martin), who in turn positions Carol as an upstart rival. Unexpectedly this throws the presumed succession into disarray.

Bell’s script easily switches between the principal battle of the sexes plot from within rival sound studios across Hollywood and a deftly emotional family drama. Carol and her father’s inability to communicate – while both choosing a vocation that places a premium on speech –is cleverly drawn out.

A segue into the marital problems of Carol’s sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and husband Moe (Rob Corddry) also gives the film a much needed emotional anchor, as well as a sweet romance between Bell’s and Martin’s characters.

However, the central message of the film is how men and women speak. The setting of voiceover actors slowly emerges as a metaphor for gender roles in society, as Sotto and Warner speak with the presumed authority of their sex.

Carol, meanwhile, is repeatedly infuriated at meeting young women who sound like, in her words, “sexy babies”. In case this message has not been made clear enough, an impromptu women’s bathroom speech by Geena Davis, playing a woman film executive, hammers home the message that there is an imbalance in how men and women are regarded.

The excellent cast, including many of the players from black comedy Childrens Hospital, helps to establish the smart whimsical tone of the film.

Fred Melamed, following his excellently smarmy performance in A Serious Man, again delivers as a deeply self-involved father who can only see the success of his daughter as a threat.

In A World… is very funny, but there’s a surprising amount of insight for a modern comedy at work behind the laughter.

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