Rumbling, resonant, distinctive, seductive, fraught with meaning and import - the voices on TV ads and movie trailers are like subliminal fish hooks, snagging us, ensnaring us, intriguing us, even if we don't know it.
Whom do these voices belong to?
In Lake Bell's winning and just a little off-the-wall comedy, In a World . . . , we find out: a bunch of egomaniacs and neurotics, that's who, ready to cut throats and stab backs if it means landing the plum roles, the high-paying jobs.
Bell, an actress with a deadpan vibe and killer eyes, makes her writing and directing feature debut with In a World . . . , casting herself as Carol Solomon, a kind of slacker vocal coach with a self-absorbed dad (Fred Melamed) who is considered one of the kings of the biz. Living in her father's shadow - and in his house, in fact - Carol gets by doing dubbing, and teaching. She's obsessed with language and dialects, trolling around Los Angeles with an old microcassette recorder to archive alluring accents and catchy catchphrases overheard on the streets, in shops, and cafes.
When her dad announces that she has to move out - his much younger girlfriend, Jamie (Alexandra Holden) is moving in - Carol is forced to up her game, and suddenly she finds herself in competition for some real work. And then she gets the work, much to the chagrin of Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), the other big star in the super-competitive voiceover community.
In a World . . . captures the niche, nutty culture of this Hollywood subset and the actors, agents, and sound engineers who inhabit it. Demetri Martin, boyish and gawky, is the engineer with the crush on Carol, helping her with her audition tapes and commercials work. Their klutzy courtship - rather uncomfortably interrupted when Carol spends a night in Gustav's lair - is part of the movie's charm.
Eva Longoria cameos as herself, getting British elocution lessons from Carol, and Bell casts many of her compadres from the surreal Adult Swim sitcom Children's Hospital in supporting roles, including Michaela Watkins as Carol's sister, Dani, and Rob Corddry as Dani's stay-at-home spouse.
Without getting heavy-handed about it, In a World . . . is also very much about gender inequity in the movie industry. As Carol's career seems to be arcing upward, the men in the business (including her dad) do their utmost to quash it. Will the woman emerge victorious? Or will it be a guy who gets to do the trailer for The Amazon Games, about a tribe of "fierce mutated female warriors?"
It's a cliffhanger.
In a World . . . *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Lake Bell. With Lake Bell, Rob Corddry, Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins, and Fred Melamed. Distributed by Roadside Attractions.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Five and Cinemark at the Ritz Center/NJ