Somebody Shut This Girl Up!: Lake Bell’s ‘In a World’

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I am a strong woman. I am smart, intelligent, hard working, motivated, and ambitious. I believe a woman can do anything. Not anything a man can do, just anything. I don’t understand why in America a promiscuous woman gets slut-shamed, while a promiscuous man gets high fives or mild eye rolls. I also believe it’s never okay to call someone a slut. (Unless she stole your boyfriend or is dating your ex. Then yeah, she’s totally a dumb slut. Privately. To your best friends.) So, yeah. Check me out. It turns out I’m a loud and proud feminist.

So… when I heard that Lake Bell wrote, directed, and starred in her own quirky indie comedy that oozed feminism in the trailer, I was so excited that I peed myself a little. After I changed my underwear, skirt, and cleaned off the little trickle that made it onto my shoes, I went to the theater immediately to see In a World. I was excited for the story of Carol (Lake Bell), the voiceover artist who fights to have her talent recognized alongside the males in the industry, who believes women should not talk like sexy babies, and who is smart and in control of her life.

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What I got was something different entirely. Most of what I’ve heard about In a World is that it’s hilarious. From my twitter feed to a random girl I met at a party to the cute guy at the box office who was super excited for me that I was about to see such a funny movie, attempting to high five me through the Plexiglas. I thought about giving him my number, but now that I’ve seen the film, I’m glad I didn’t. My experience seeing Lake Bell’s writing and directing debut was less of a wonderful, gut-busting 90 minutes of lady laughter, and more of some mild laughter mixed with a lot of disappointment.

See, the main conflict in the film revolves around the “In a world…” gimmick that used to be used in old movie trailers. The fictional legendary voiceover artist who used to do all of them has passed away, but the industry is thinking of bringing the gimmick back. There’s a lot of hubbub about who is going to be the new voice of “In a world…” and nobody even suspects it could be a woman.

Carol, a struggling vocal coach, kind of stumbles into the running for the part. She’s up against two men: her father, a legendary voiceover artist (Fred Melamed), and a younger but very popular voiceover artist named Gustav Warner (Ken Marino). It sounds like the perfect recipe for female empowerment, I know. One woman fighting against two men for the same iconic part, and if the woman wins, it would be revolutionary for the voiceover industry.

Unfortunately, the trailer in question is a Hunger Games-esque quadrilogy that takes place in the future when Amazonian woman warriors have taken over and men are basically obsolete. It’s by women, for women, about women. Hell, the last line of the trailer is, “It’s a broad new world.” Pun more than intended.

What’s so radical and revolutionary about having a woman narrate that trailer? In fact, wouldn’t it be kind of incredibly weird if a man narrated that trailer? Herein lies the problem. Carol eventually gets the part, obviously. If the trailer was about literally anything else, it might have been a nice surprise. But a woman narrating a film about women, that’s written and produced by women is supposed to be somehow shocking and empowering? What kind of sad world do we live in?

And then came the next part. The part that negated any form of feminist message whatsoever. Carol runs into the producer of the super-femme quadrilogy (Geena Davis) and expresses her gratitude for her new iconic gig. And what does Geena Davis say in return? Not, “Congratulations!” Not, “We’re so happy to have you.” Or even, “No problem.”

Davis’ character goes on a crazy rant about how Carol isn’t really “the best person for the job,” and how the movie she’s producing actually sends a shitty message to women, but, “voiceover is important.” Basically, she flat out tells Carol she was using her so that little girls would hear a strong female voice, but Carol’s voice is just good and not great.

Okay. So besides the fact that the scene was completely unnecessary and felt unrealistic (no matter what your reason is for hiring someone, you pleasantly tell them you’re excited to have them… Right??), it weirdly implies that female voiceover artists are always subpar when compared to male voiceover artists. Here’s why:

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If Carol was “not the best person for the job,” then why hire her at all? If you want to send a message to young girls via a strong female voiceover, why have one woman and two men compete for the job? Why not three great female V.O. artists vying for the female V.O. gig? The implication is that Carol is the best female voiceover artist, but she still couldn’t compare with a man. Furthermore, if that is the case, Davis is wrong to tell her she’s not the best candidate to narrate the trailer. They wanted a woman, Carol is the best woman, therefore Carol is the best for the job.

I have been racking my brain trying to figure out what Lake Bell’s intention with this scene was, and to be honest, I have come up short. Carol, though slightly upset by her interaction with the producer, just shakes it off and never brings it up again. For the audience to understand the message in this scene, some form of follow up was needed. Because I seriously doubt Bell put this scene into her writing/directing debut to remind us all that women are inferior.

I had other issues with the film, the RomCom aspect was cliché and drew away from the overall message. Carol’s family life was kind of all over the place, and never had either a purpose or a resolution. But most of all, I was disappointed and sad for women. Last year’s For a Good Time, Call… was about two women who open up their own phone sex line, and it was ten times more pro-woman than In a World. I just want to live in a world where a woman like Lake Bell can feel confident that people will enjoy her movie if she sticks to her guns and flies her feminist flag proudly, instead of at half-mast. Is that so much to ask?

1 COMMENT

  1. It seems obvious, Ms. Pachter, that you don’t know much about the gender prejudice in voice-overs. True, things have been changing rapidly, but that’s only a very recent change. I work in the news media and, I kid you not, a female voice-coach told me to start the narration “low and allow for the voice to grow to a higher pitch, since that’s how a man’s voice sounds and the audience likes a man’s voice better”. She even brought as examples two male colleagues who, besides being males, are awful in narration and delivery. Yes, there is prejudice. Besides, Lake Bell made a feature movie, not a documentary. I liked it a lot. What a great result for a first time movie!

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