The movie-trailer voice-over business is one of the most quietly iconic facets of the entertainment industry, so it is unsurprising that it took this long to get a film made about that rather eccentric corner of Hollywood. Lake Bell writes, directs, and stars in In a World…, a comedy about a woman who wants to break into the male-dominated world of voice-overs, a world in which her father reigns supreme. Fred Melamed, Ken Marino, Rob Corddry, Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins, and Nick Offerman star alongside Bell in the Sundance favorite.
Carol Solomon is the daughter of Sam Soto, a legendary voice-over artist on the tail-end of his career. Carol works as a vocal coach, specializing in accents, but dreams of the glorious day when her voice will echo throughout movie theaters around the globe while theatergoers get their popcorn and go to the restroom “just in case.” Carol has the goods, but she has the wrong pair of chromosomes. Sam Soto (Fred Melamed) has it all: a girlfriend younger than his (youngest) daughter, rather impressive facial hair, and a voice that could shake the heavens. He is also a petty jackass.
Dani Solomon (Michaela Watkins) is married to the affable Moe (Rob Corddry), but the spark is gone. Her missing wedding ring is an annoyance rather than an emergency and her job appears to bore her. Two events flip Dani’s life on its head: Carol moves in, and a handsome Irishman sets his sights on her. Meanwhile, the attractive young woman next door (Talulah Riley) with a delightful accent of her own has befriended Moe.
Carol frequently works at a recording studio staffed by Louis (Demetri Martin) a sound engineer crushing on Carol, Heners (Nick Offerman) who is filled with both good advice and ill-timed news, Cher (Tig Notaro), and a rather agressive new secretary who lusts after Sam Soto. This collection of odd-balls in united by their distaste for Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), the heir apparent to the voice-over throne.
The lives of these people intertwine and intersect and get increasingly complicated and convoluted as it becomes known that the phrase “In a World…” will be used in a trailer for the first time since the death of Don LaFontaine (the real life king of movie trailers). The choice for the recipient of the honor is limited down to three candidates: Sam Soto, Gustav Warner, and Carol Solomon.
This is a funny movie. The dramatic beats will occasionally fall a little short and some of the subplots are in need of refinement, but the laughs never stop coming from the opening sequence to the final scene. Lake Bell is a proven comedic actress, from the typical romantic-comedy fare to the more absurd (she is one of the leads on Children’s Hospital), but she has proven her ability to write witty, consistently funny dialogue here. Admittedly, having a stable of reliable comedic talents filling out the supporting cast definitely gives her something of a cushion to work with.
The romantic element in the film is probably the weakest aspect, and the dialogue present in the scenes between Bell and Martin tends to be a bit too “cute” for believability. This could be because the chemistry between Bell and Martin worked well in a friendly context, but felt lacking later in the film when it inevitably came time for there to be a slightly awkward romantic turn between the pair. While the romantic element is ever-present, In a World… is not a romantic comedy in the traditional sense where the leading lady finds her man and everything is all hunky-dory, Carol finds her own way in the world with some assistance, but does not have that way found for her.
The acting in the film is excellent, especially the work done by Bell, Corddry, Melamed, and Watkins. The convoluted family unit those four actors create, is a cavalcade of disfunction, from the father actively trying to thwart his daughter’s successes, to the husband and wife in danger of letting their little crushes get the better of them. Melamed does well as the antagonist you don’t fully realize is an antagonist until the movie’s nearly done and is able to provide his unpleasant characters with some layers.
The subplot regarding the marital strife between Dani and Moe is effective, sad, and touching but occupies the not-so-happy-medium where there was either too much of them onscreen, or not enough. The disappearance of the couple’s accented objects of lust halfway through the film is a little bit jarring and something that could have been easily remedied with an extra few minutes of screen-time.
In a World… is a very funny film, but like most comedies worth their salt, it is has something to say beneath the witticisms and banter about its subject matter. Lake Bell is making something of a statement regarding the state of an intensely male-dominated field and also about the pandemic of young women adopting voices that are infantilized to the point of being unintelligible. Bell’s Carol is feisty and willing to fight for what she wants, so if you are the type to go in for positive lessons in their entertainment, there is one here to go along with a rather damning critique of how an industry, and others, are run.
In a lot of ways, Lake Bell is to actresses as voice-overs are to Hollywood. She has hung out around the fringes of the mainstream for years now, and while she is a recognizable face, she does not come immediately to mind when thinking of actresses. This makes it fitting that her first outing as a writer-director would focus on this aspect of the movie business. In a World… is a funny movie with enough narrative heft and strong acting to make for a memorable and unique, if unexceptional movie-going experience for the first-time director, who should have a lot of success with future cinematic endeavors behind the camera.