The First Feminist Rom-Com: ‘In a World’

‘In a World…’ is perhaps the only successful feminist critique of the entertainment industry to ever have been brought forward in the form of a romantic comedy.

The story: an eccentric and graceless yet very attractive female protagonist named Carol Solomon lives under her glaringly misogynistic VoiceOver artist father’s (the big-wig Sam Sotto) reluctant wing, obsessively studying voices and trying to find her way in the shadow of the industry’s notoriously unshakable boys club while barely paying her bills as a vocal coach.

A few minutes in, her dad decides that his new girlfriend is moving into his home and casually asks Carol to relocate within the next twenty-four hours. This pinch lands her at her disillusioned, bored older sister’s apartment, which she shares with her kind and caring stay-at-home husband. Though they have very little in common, these sisters seem to care for and understand each other without much nagging or rivalry, which is very refreshing.

When the major voice of the VoiceOver industry dies, there’s a wave of male voices ready to take his place. Carol auditions for the heck of it and snags the gig. Then another, then another. She takes the gold: hurrah! It’s great. But she doesn’t get to tell the one person she wants to -her father- because he is so extremely busy telling her that she can’t be as big a deal in the VoiceOver industry as he is, because she’s a woman. And because she’s a regular voice…nothing special.

Hurt but determined, she brushes him off and trudges onward, straight into the path of the powerful woman (Geena Davis) who chose her voice over so many others. In a moment of truth, this female executive tells Carol that she didn’t choose her because she was the best voice, because she wasn’t, but because she knew her voice would bolster up a generation of girls to join the creative fields in the entertainment industry, thereby changing the game in the ranks filled to that point solely by self-assured men. Carol is understandably taken aback by this revelation, but embraces her role as the only female voice with a reel to match Sam Sotto, and with no help from him.

The film ends with Carol presenting her reel to a group of female students in a vocal class. She’s in her element, not the best, but certainly the first, and therefore she has made her mark.

The film is not only feminist but a special kind of critique of misogyny for the following reasons:

1. Carol is not strictly independent. She grows out of an immature state as a very late bloomer. She isn’t simply a perfect image of what a woman should be if she’s got feminist values, she gets there through her experiences of success and loss, as we do in life.

2. We are presented with, as was mentioned earlier, a lovely klutz who is not averse to being considered either of those things. She just does her job. She has sex when she decides to. She says what she likes and it doesn’t define her. These qualities make Carol an admirable female protagonist, which is pretty delightful to see on-screen.

3. Watch this film and you’ll see that writer/producer/lead actress used the rom-com + chick flick structure to her absolute benefit. Easy to catch and follow, the plot thickens and flows in a satisfying way, whilst being cleverly injected with self-critical humor: an unconsciously malicious misogynist father tells his protege to “do” the nobody woman who took his big gig from him and “give it to her” for him, too. Whoops…it turns out to be his daughter. Twisted it is, but the blame is finally put on the right party- the jerk who says it (!) and not the writer (for thinking such things) or the character at the center of the verbal abuse. That example of “what if it was your daughter?” is used for all it’s worth and illustrates powerfully the nature of gender hierarchy in power struggles that go on in different industries that are dominated by men.

4. Carol tells a guy she likes him. No biggie…This is actually big for the movies. Movie girls still don’t break the cycle very often, and when they do, they don’t do it wearing overalls and run away to do something more important directly after the ice is smashed. Carol does all of these things and it’s performed very appropriately: she prioritizes her goals and puts love in it’s place, where she wants it. This is reassuring.

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