In a World… (2013)

So I’m hardly likely to be the only person watching this film who was not previously familiar with the world of trailer voiceover artists. You know, the ones who canonically start their spiel with stuff along the lines of “In a world of sadness, their love was the only thing that held things together” or whatever — you know the drill, just think deep booming voice. What writer/director/star Lake Bell has done is take this world and question its cosy assumptions, most notably about gender (when was the last trailer you saw voiced by a woman). This is the real world of the film, and it provides the backbone for what is it turns out a rather wonderful, affectionate comedy.

The credits sequence, which mimics the blurry VHS aesthetic, does a quick overview of the voiceover world, moving swiftly from the very real, revered and late Don LaFontaine (the man who coined the title phrase) to his successors, the characters who provide the background to this film: Sam Soto (Fred Melamed) and the young upstart whom Sam is grooming as his heir, Gustav Warner. It’s a cosy old boys’ network where jobs are traded amongst a very small and very male coterie of voice talent. This is where Soto’s daughter Carol comes in (the director Lake Bell), who is working initially as a voice coach but who wants to do what her dad does. He doesn’t support her, doesn’t think she can succeed, and is anyway desperately vain, having just moved his much younger girlfriend in, displacing Carol, who goes to stay on her sister Dani’s couch.

In many ways it’s a family drama, not only because the central characters are all part of the same family, but because the voiceover world is such an insular one. Dani (Michaela Watkins) are her husband Moe (Rob Corddry) are having marital problems, while Carol likes shy studio engineer Louis (Demetri Martin), though allows herself to be seduced by the supremely confident Gustav. He is only interested in her as a conquest, and quickly becomes agitated when he learns she is a rival. It’s this angle that is the most interesting, for you get the sense that having a woman rival is incomprehensible to these men, who are so certain that it cannot happen in their profession. Thus does voiceover artist surprisingly become one of the last remaining battlegrounds for women’s equality.

None of this would matter much, though, if it weren’t for the likeable performances by all the principal characters, especially Lake Bell as the struggling voice coach who wants more than her profession allows (we see her helping Eva Longoria master a cockney accent at the start, and she has an obsession with recording exotic accents at her sister’s hotel to aid her work). In the recording studio, Martin has a floppy-haired neurotic charm, ably assisted by the deadpan Tig Notaro and the ever-watchable Nick Offerman (without his Ron Swanson moustache, but still as straight-talking as ever).

For all that it doesn’t pull punches about the inherent sexism in the industry — and there are some pretty upfront admissions of such — it doesn’t hurt that no one in the film is really nasty, though Gustav is certainly self-involved to a disturbing degree. As a father, Sam is basically decent, and writer/director Bell isn’t interested in punishing or hurting her characters, even the ones who act badly. Carol may sleep with Gustav, but it’s not presented as something that defines or degrades either of them, though it’s equally clear they shouldn’t be together. It’s a comic world, after all, where everything sort of works out in the end.

In a World… is more than just being about an unusual facet of the film industry, though that gives it some extra interest. No, what it does really well is that brand of likeable character-driven comedy which has a positive message without getting preachy, and in which its characters all find themselves without hurting each other. And for that, I really like it.

Director/Writer Lake Bell; Cinematographer Seamus Tierney; Starring Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins, Rob Corddry; Length 93 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Fulham Road, London, Saturday 14 September 2013.

Warm Bodies (2013)

I must confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of the fairly prolific subgenre of zombie movies, though partly that’s because I’ve never been a huge fan of the horror genre. Blah blah metaphor for problems afflicting humanity, blah blah hollow dead-eyed malaise infecting Western culture (or some variant thereof). And here again, we have a future world that’s an extrapolation of our own, and most people are zombies roaming the hinterlands except for the brave rebels holding out in their fortified city. There’s no explanation for it, but there’s the strong implication right away that we’re in a Starship Troopers-like world where the ‘real’ humans are actually the callous amoral ones, and as for the zombies, their only crime is essentially being apathetic. Well, except for the really bad zombies, the ones that are too far gone. But for the rest of them, the premise here is that they can be rescued. By love.

Which, when typed out, isn’t the kind of précis that would win me over, except that this is really a very sweet film with engaging central performances. Here we have ‘being a zombie’ as a metaphor for the awkwardness of being a teenager, much as I imagine it might have been used in, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (assuming it had a zombie plot). Nicholas Hoult gets to be gangly, awkward and monosyllabic with a pasty complexion befitting someone who’s spent a lot of time indoors playing videogames, because, well, he’s a zombie. Teresa Palmer (an actress I was not hitherto aware of, but who looks a lot like Kristen Stewart) gets to be more self-assured, and in some ways has a more difficult role because she has to believably be the daughter of John Malkovich (who makes a few brief appearances).

However, it all sort of hangs together in a shaggy, comedic kind of way. This is comedy in the broad sense, in the sense where the world isn’t essentially harsh and hateful like it might be in a horror film, though there are some laughs too. Which means, for me, the surprise was that I rather enjoyed it.

Director/Writer Jonathan Levine (based on the novel by Isaac Marion); Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe; Starring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Rob Corddry; Length 97 minutes
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Wednesday 27 February 2013.