USA, 2012. Dir: Lake Bell, Scr: Lake Bell
One of the nice things about Lake Bell’s first feature-length film is the genuine recognition given to legendary film trailer and TV advert voice-over artist Don LaFontaine, “The Voice of God” or “Thunder Throat”, who died in 2008. There’s no irony in her opening tribute to the undisputed king of an obscure cottage industry supplying The Movies. Closer to the real LA than the glamour of Hollywood, this insular world is, nevertheless, characterised by egos, rivalry, hierarchy and sexual politics. But these are playfully undermined by Bell as she introduces a fictional group of characters to the real-world vacuum left after LaFontaine’s death. With a warm universal (at least mid-Atlantic) humour that blends quirkiness, self-deprecation and throwaway lines, the film is wonderfully funny. It is a film of such charm that, while Lake Bell is becoming a well-known TV actress, the audience can see it has made a discovery and, in her – writer, director and leading actress, it has discovered a phenomenon.
Carol is the voice-coach daughter of successful, now retired, larger-than-life film trailer voice-over artist, Sam, played by Fred Melamed. She still lives at home but, early on, Sam talks about his girlfriend moving in and the need for Carol to move out, “I can’t continue to support your emotional handicap.” Carol stays with her sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins), and her partner, Moe (Rob Corddry) – an arrangement which helps develop the subplot around tests of fidelity. The sweet, geeky recording engineer, played by Demetri Martin, who fancies Carol arranges for her to record a test voice-over, which is well-received. After winning an advertising job, “Wow, you’re the voice of Sunny D!”, Carol is added to the shortlist for the voice-over of the trailer for the next Hollywood fantasy blockbuster. When her father hears, he decides to compete against her.
The film is easy to love and difficult to fault. The Dani and Moe sub-plot is in to show the rounding of characters, how people are flawed, the real LA. It is perhaps slightly over-done in the film, but the “Sisterhood” between Carol and Dani is both silly in-joke and important statement. Bell is a smart feminist: she is making her mark in a (man’s) world because she is a workaholic with huge talent, energy, passion and interest. But, in a scene with a brilliant cameo by Geena Davis she acknowledges that affirmative action has a place. As a sign that her popularity, rightly, seems to be growing we see if not better, then funnier, cameos from Cameron Diaz and Eva Longoria. The infectious, child-like vibrancy we saw at the Q&A at Sundance London permeates the film. She talked of performing “The Late Lake Show” between the ages of 5 and 11 to put off bed-time and I don’t think she’s changed: why sleep when you can be tangential? Oh, and she loves doing accents – The valley girl, the Russian (her favourite), the wide-boy – and they all appear in the film. She is, well, just lovely – a sort of lozenge of light. She has everything you’d want in a best friend. And anyone who can slip Haircut 100 into a party scene is a friend of mine.
PS: Technically, one of the accents in the film was Bulgarian, not Russian. Russian is still her favourite, I think.