The reviews of actress Lake Bell’s debut film as a writer-director-actress have a swooning quality to them.
“To call Lake Bell a magnetic, intelligent, blithely screwball leading lady in the Carole Lombard tradition might be selling her short,” John Anderson enthused in Variety.
She “holds the thing together through sheer charisma,” gushes Oscar Moralde in Slant Magazine.
It would be a reminder that most movie critics are male, and that only the intervention of an editor keeps some of these fellows with tossing a phone number and “call me” at the bottom of a review of a particularly attractive woman’s film.
It would, that is, if the film, “In a World…” wasn’t a delight, and if Bell’s movie wasn’t the gorgeous actress’s way of making the case actors “shouldn’t be limited by our looks.” Making a movie about voice-over actors was her way of exploring “the ultimate acting,” a film that suggests even for those blessed with beauty, “all looks are limiting, in some capacity.”
Bell, 34, has experienced that first hand. She’s had a solid career, mostly stuck in good-looking-best-friend roles (“What Happens in Vegas”) (“No Strings Attached”). But if she wanted to take charge of her career, she’d have to do what scores of actors have done since the dawn of indie cinema — write and raise funds for a movie starring herself.
“The movie came from an organic place of being curious about this world and why there are never ladies’ voices on movie trailers,” she says. The film pays tribute to the late Don LaFontaine, the voice-over actor famed for turning the phrase “In a world where…” into a movie trailer cliche.
“In a World…” has Bell’s character, Carol, a voice coach, long to break into the elite club of male voice-over actors. Her father (Fred Melamed) and his peers are all vying to be the guy to inherit the phrase “In a World…” and rule the “voice of God” corner of the voice-over trade. Carol wants to crash that party.
“I’m not an expert feminist, but I am a woman tuned in to women’s concerns. This seemed like a cool way to poke my head, and my movie, in this world.”
Bell slung a few accents and even voices the disembodied phone voice of an elderly agent in the film. And she gave some thought as to why women rarely turn up as the voice-over artists on movie trailers, outside of “A Lifetime Original Movie” promos.
“Scientifically, maybe, a female voice has more trouble punching through the tornado of film score, special effects and everything that is on the soundtrack of a trailer,” she says. “Or, more controversially, maybe it’s because The Bible says of God — ‘He created the Heavens and the Earth.’ So maybe when you want a Voice of God, it’s got to be a guy, by that logic.”
In a profession where people reinvent their looks, their pasts and so on to get ahead, Bell freely admits her own sexy lower-register voice “is lower than my natural voice, so who am I to talk? I want to sound cool, and I admit that. Maybe I want to sound more sophisticated, or be taken more seriously. Maybe I watched too many Lauren Bacall movies as a kid.”
She spent four years getting the movie made, into film festivals and now (Aug. 9) into theaters. She had to add another voice, “a director’s voice,” to her repertoire. “But everybody has one of those. It’s just more authoritative.”
And when you write your own movie, you get to make fun “of this VIRUS infecting young women, in Hollywood and all over the country.”
Call it the Kardashian Curse or the more technical term, “vocal fry,” “it is an EPIDEMIC — that ‘sexy baby’ voice, that Valley Girl upward inflecting affectation,” Bell says, laughing. It drives her, like her voice-expert character Carol, “crazy! The dialect, the pitch, that little girly growl in it? Upper talking inflection, like every sentence is a question? Vocal Fry. ‘Sexy Baby.’ And girls? STOP IT.”