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The Double Meaning of Voice in In a World…
On the surface, In a World is a fun and unique power chick flick that ends on a high note and leaves the viewer with a few good laughs and warm fuzzy feelings. But when you sit down and dig a bit deeper into its themes, it suddenly becomes so much more. Yes, it’s a story about a girl who dared to dream. But even more importantly, it’s a story about how all of us have access to our own dreams, and how we have every right to arm ourselves with our own voices and go after it. For that, I can’t help but say that In a World is one of the most surprisingly and refreshingly evocative films I’ve seen in a long, long time.
In the very beginning, we meet Carol, an ambitious but ultimately underachieving freelance voice coach whose dreams are much bigger than her reality. She’s obsessed with improving her collection of voice styles, working on accents, and becoming as high a caliber voice over performer as her successful and famous father.
But she’s constantly reminded of the fact that the industry does not crave a female voice, and there comes a certain point in the film that we see her start to believe that maybe this really is the case.
At times childish, Carol is a 31-year-old woman who seemingly never grew up past age 16. She’s flighty, she’s goofy, and she’s a dreamer. And while these qualities often make her seem immature, it’s the solemn moments where we see her engage her art that we really understand how passionate she is about her dreams. While watching, I was reminded a bit of Frances Ha, and how the main character Frances always refers to herself as a dancer, even though she technically didn’t dance for a living and had yet to actually join with a proper company. The dream is there, but even in her voice we sometimes hear tinges of doubt.
It’s very much the same with Carol, who reaches a low point when she’s forced to move out of her dad’s house and winds up crashing on her sister Dani’s couch. She’s down, she’s poor, and she’s quickly running out of options. But she’s given a new lease on her future when opportunity presents itself in the form of a movie trailer job, which she quickly snags and is soon after offered another. The film makes a very strong point of telling you that she took these jobs from the prominent performer Gustav, who was originally slated for the job but had to bow out due to illness.
So, what’s significant about this plot point? To me, it really kicked off the film’s tirade against the status quo and saw the beginning of Bell’s on-screen crusade for women’s empowerment. See, she eventually spends the night with Gustav after a lapse in judgement, but Gustav has no idea she’s the one that took the jobs from him and later launches into a campaign to shut down the woman who infringed upon his turf halfway through the film.
How is this empowering? For starters, she begins to refute her father’s claims of a woman having no place in the voice over industry by getting actual paying jobs, which in turn fuels her dreams of being a full time voice over performer and leads to her taking roles away from a prominent male performer. It’s the kind of you-go-girl gumption that is inspiring despite its somewhat sappiness.
Things come to a head at the film’s climax, however, which sees Carol, Gustav, and even her father vying for the opportunity to record for a trailer whose opening lines are the titular “In a world…” that marks the rebirth of the epic movie trailer. It’s for a Young Adult novel adaptation about a tribe of amazonian women who take control of the world, and while the male vs. female parallels are a bit on the nose in this particular scene, waiting with bated breath as the trailer rolls to hear whose voice was selected for the work was one of the best parts of the entire film, especially when we hear Carol’s alto tones of “In a world…” at the very beginning. Being that she’s such a compelling and relatable character, her victory in this moment was particularly inspiring.
But it’s cut short by another scene that takes place not long after, when Carol meets with the woman at the head of the entire film project and begins thanking the woman for choosing her and giving her the opportunity to voice the trailer. It’s during this moment that the woman holds up her hand, halting Carol mid-sentence to tell her that she wasn’t chosen because she was the best. She was chosen because the trailer would be seen by millions of young women around the world, and they needed to hear her voice.
Upon hearing this, I admittedly was disappointed. Being that I’m all for equality, I find it just as insulting for a woman to be hired simply because she’s a woman and a place needs to tick a box that says they hire minorities. In my mind, people should have equal opportunity to be recognized for being great at what they do, regardless of what gender, age, race, religion, or sexual orientation they might possess or be aligned with.
As such, this revelation shocked me. But as the film went on, I suddenly realized that its message was so much bigger than merely telling women they can do anything if they put their mind to it, and this scene played a key role in conveying this idea.
One of the first things you hear in the entire film is a quote from Carol’s father: “Voice is not just a blessing. It’s also a choice.” Characteristic of great writing, this phrase has a dual meaning. In the context of the film, I took it to mean that great performers have talent, but have to choose to put up with all the struggles and hardships within their industry in order to be heard. But as the film progresses, you suddenly understand that this speaks to a much higher meaning than before.
Carol has several encounters with young women whose high-pitched “squeaky toy” voices irk her. They’re all equally amusing and comedic, but as the film builds, we learn that these scenes are more than mere comedy fodder and in fact become the small pieces that ultimately fill in the holes of this puzzle. At the very end, we see her with a group of them, offering her coaching services to help them improve their voices, because they deserve to be heard and taken seriously.
It’s at this moment that the aforementioned phrase suddenly takes on its secondary and more important meaning. We’re all blessed with a “voice”, a personal identity, an opportunity to say something and be heard, but whether or not we choose to harness this voice and make something of it is a conscious decision that has to be made on our part. That’s the beauty of the parallels Lake Bell draws between the fascinating world of voice over performers and our own burgeoning senses of identity; we have something to say, and we have every right to say it. And most importantly, no one has any right to discourage it or take it away. For its ability to simultaneously entertain and convey such a powerful message, In a World is deserving of a watch for both the ambitious and the skeptical souls out there who have always wanted to speak up.