After playing widely on this year's festival circuit, the film "In a World..." begins its rollout to theaters today, opening in New York and Los Angeles.
The movie is the feature debut as writer and director for actress Lake Bell, best known for supporting roles in films such as "It's Complicated" and "No Strings Attached." Bell gives herself a star turn as Carol Solomon, a young woman trying to break into the boys club of voiceover artists, a select group of which her father (Fred Melamud) is the top of the heap. When an opportunity arises to compete for a major job on the trailer to a new adventure quadrilogy, her family life and professional aspirations collide.
Since debuting at Sundance -- where Bell picked up the screenwriting award -- "In a World..." is currently sitting at a strong 86 percent on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.
Betsy Sharkey in the Los Angeles Times called the film "completely endearing" and "a very entertaining first crack at what one can only hope will be a long career behind the camera." Writing for the New York Times, critic A.O. Scott noted "the film’s title is an apt description of its commitment to lightly exaggerated, comically inflected realism." Even some negative notices feel somehow like compliments too, with Alonso Duralde of The Wrap saying "It’s rare to complain that a movie has too many ideas."
Being writer, director and star of the movie puts a lot of the promotional weight on Bell's shoulders. During the coast-to-coast whirlwind tour on behalf of the film building up to its release, Bell stopped by for a Q&A following a recent (free) showing of the movie as part of the Los Angeles Times' Indie Focus Screening Series.
Though the film has the shape of a romantic comedy, Bell is able to sneak in a number of genuine real-world issues, most notably gender equality in the workplace, but also a more comical sub-story involving the proliferation of the "sexy baby voice" among young women.
During the Indie Focus Q&A, Bell addressed how she looked to sneak in some issues that mattered to her while working to keep the film feeling overall like a fun, playful comedy, turning the movie into something she referred to as "gently feminist."
"Personally I don’t like to be preached to," Bell said. "And I always get nervous when somebody is trying to make a point, especially when it comes to feminism and things like that. If it’s ‘Go women!’ I feel like guys are immediately like, 'I am outta here.' And I understand that inclination.
"So I did have a lot to say but I was reticent to get too much on a soapbox in the movie and just sort of chose my moments to make an enjoyable movie that I would want to see that was earnest and sweet and honest and with a little hope in it," she added. "I did want to impart some of my thoughts to the conversation on these feminist issues, but in a way that if you don’t want to take it on you don’t have to, it’s not force-fed."
Late in the film, Bell's character is in the bathroom at an awards show, and standing at the sink she introduces herself to a powerful female movie executive, played by Geena Davis. The executive does not have congratulatory words of advice for Carol, and in fact her rather cynical explanation of events turns a personal and professional triumph into something with a more complex meaning.
"That’s my favorite speech in the movie in so many ways. And that is my soapbox moment," said Bell. "Ostensibly what I wanted to articulate there is that women are, in success, very complicated. I’ve been used to seeing what the boys club is all about and that kind of camaraderie in success for the male species. And then with women, because the road is more difficult and not quite as linear, I find people like Geena Davis’ character, an executive looking down on someone who is coming up, I liked the idea that was a complicated message to Carol: Saying here I am in success and I’m using you for my own devices and to make it difficult for Carol to understand what her own success was about.
"And, by the way, all these feminist issues, I didn’t graduate Summa Cum Laude from Yale in women’s studies," Bell added. "I’m just a woman and therefore inherently feminist. It’s the conversation that excites me."
Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus
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