Tuesday, September 17, 2013
In A World... (***)
Written and Directed by Lake Bell
Feels like Lake Bell has been around for a very long time. She's been given a million chances to catch fire with movie audiences. It just hasn't happened. It's a lot similar to what keeps happening with Will Arnett in his various television projects, Bell is so charming and talented that Hollywood suits just figured that if they put her in enough projects, eventually the audiences will catch on. But the problem is that these same Hollywood suits put her in subpar films including the flat unfunny, Jason Biggs/Eva Longoria rom-com Over Her Dead Body and the over-serious family morality tale Pride and Glory. Even if these movies actually were good, none of them were ones that could give Lake Bell the opportunity to shine as brightly as In A World... does. All Bell had to do to get that opportunity was write and direct the film herself.
In A World... accomplishes something that very few films can claim and that is tell a truly unique story within a setting totally unfamiliar to the movies. And that setting is the world of commercial and trailer voice over performers. Taking the filmmaking role herself deserves some credit in itself, but In A World... also has a truly smart comic tone that suggests someone with far more experience behind the camera. Of course, Bell spends a lot of time actually in front of the camera, playing Carol Solomon, the daughter of voice over legend Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed). Sam was a peer to Don LaFontaine (a real voice over legend who passed away in 2008), the undisputed king of the movie trailer and the pioneer of the world famous intro "In A World..." which was a staple of all of LaFontaine's trailers throughout his entire career. So engrossed is LaFontaine into the industry that there is no other voice over talent that has even been asked to use "In A World..." in their work.
Like her father, Carol works in the voice business, but she specializes as a vocal coach, generally helping celebrities like Eva Longoria when they're struggling with accents on their latest movie. But she aspires to much more, including reaching into the trailer and commercial world, where a woman's voice is rarely heard. Carol lives with Sam, but he quickly kicks her out when his much-younger girlfriend, Jamie (Alexandra Holden) decides that she wants to live with him. Sam is a man of enormous ego, who treats his achievements as a voice talent as if they're equal to the work of Kubrick or Bergman. He wants Carol to give up on her pipe dream of being the woman who crashes the ol' boys club. But when Carol is encouraged by her sound engineer friend, Louis (Demitri Martin), to do a test reading for some voice over copy, its heard by the right ears and its exactly what she needs to break into the voice over career she always dreamed of.
In A World...'s screenplay is a bit slight, and even with a 93-minute runtime, it seems like the script is stuffing in extra storyline just so it can reach feature length. Luckily, all of the extra story is just as intriguing as the main story. The main subplot includes Carol's sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins), who takes Carol into the studio apartment she shares with her husband, Moe (Rob Corddry). Dani and Moe are a typically petty married couple, fighting over small injuries done to each other. It's pretty standard 'Story B' material, but it goes into areas as the film progresses that I didn't expect and produces some of the film's most charming moments. But for Carol, the story revolves around the industry's revival of the "In a World..." staple. Louis tells Carol that she is being tabbed to be the new female voice of the latest Hollywood franchise and the first person to utter "In a World..." since the late LaFontaine. But Carol has some competition, including both her meddling father Sam and the newest young voice over star, Gustav Warner (Ken Marino).
Bell is able to whip up an interesting cast for this film, with Watkins, Melamed and Corddry giving terrific performances around Lake Bell's improv-heavy, witty lead turn. Bell doesn't make the mistake of trying to put the entire burden of the film on her shoulders. Everyone gets their own moment, and the film holds a bevy of great small performances, including Eva Longoria playing herself, as well as Nick Offerman and Tig Notaro as Louis' accomplices in the sound booth. A predictable, yet sweet romantic subplot between Bell and Martin unfolds perfectly since both performers are aware of just how awkward a relationship between Lake Bell and Demitri Martin would be. Bell's script doesn't take a whole lot of dramatic chances, but it doesn't really have to. It knows that it's strength will come from its cast, and she does a terrific job of letting these actors complement each other.
I find it refreshing that an actress like Lake Bell decided to use her own resourcefulness and essentially give herself the greatest role she's ever had in a movie before. There's an earnest interest in the hierarchies of the voice over industry, even if the very idea of making a narrative film about it seems tongue-in-cheek. But she shows here just how confident she is in her own ability as a performer, even if she seems tame right now as a screenwriter and a filmmaker. I found In A World... legitimately funny in a way unlike most things that are funny in movies these days. Movie comedy today is judged by irony and awkward silences, but In A World... mixes it up and even puts in the old school set-ups and punchlines of those rom-coms of the late 90's, but its less processed than those. It's not a perfect movie nor is it the funniest, but its a smarter comedy than most. The film was released in early August, so I'm a bit late to the game here, but I'll go ahead and push this forward and say that if you still have the opportunity to see it, I wouldn't pass it up.