Meet Carol. She's on the way to becoming a very not bad vocal coach and wants the big voiceover job which has just gone vacant (vinyl record scratch effect) but her dad is too. Meet Sam. He's a trailer voiceover guy and as first in line to the "In a world" throne he's about to - ok, this isn't working and it isn't representative. But a film as frequently clever as this one was gagging for a review to match it. So, straight.
Carol is a voice coach. She goes into post production voice recording sessions and tells people like Eva Longoria how to speak Cockney or Armenian etc. She's good at it but has had it. She wants to progress to the cushy trailer voiceover level but tabling this wish in front of her father, a veteran voiceover guy, ends in the usual father/daughter talk down. There's also a voiceover stud on the rise to threaten father Sam. The trailer for the upcoming action movie hasn't yet been cast for voiceover. The race is on.
This film is a lot more effective and a lot less twee than that might suggest. It prefers the careful construction to the cheap shot and knows the value of placing a warm area here and there as narrative foundation rather than padding. So, if we have a high strung contest between voiceover divas at the centre we also have a real concern for the sexy baby voice pandemic that allows women affected by it to devalue themselves with the first word. If there is a very funny neanderthal man in cro magnon's clothing seduction scene there is also an increasingly poignant side tale of a strained marriage. And there is a central performance that embodies the film's core theme of women's confidence in a male dominated industry. Also, it's funny. The mumblecore romance between Carol and sound engineer Louis (dependably understated comedy from Demetry Martin) plays like an alto ground through the pomposity at the top and the poignancy at the bottom. If nothing else, this is even handed orchestration.
There is a coda that is a touch too earnest and develops a point that has already been made. It does extend that point but deflates the emotive flow of the central plot's conclusion. I could argue for it but the handling gives it the feel of the kind of thing Albert Brooks used to overdo in his directorial efforts. In a movie where subtlety pushes to the front this feels like the triumph of MESSAGE. Otherwise, the tale of women's voices in a world of men delivers its goods, going so easily from acerbic to amiable and back again.
Writer, director and star, Lake Bell has done something good here. A bullseye shot with mimicry she has limited her shows of skill on screen to a single line which ties in with the coda. The staging and content of the take-home as Gina Davis' verbal bitchslap does much at once and is expertly judged as a serious stab set in the comedy. It's the voice of frustration speaking and holds the entire movie on its beautifully modulated tone. Bell has so far primarily been an actor but this foray into writing and directing holds promise for the world of quasi indy cuteness ruled by overcatered mediocrities like Wes Anderson. Watch the following youtube promo for the movie where Bell is thinking like a writer. You'll see.