D: Lake Bell / 93m
Cast: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Alexandra Holden, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro, Stephanie Allynne, Geena Davis, Jason O’Mara
When King of the Voice Overs, Don LaFontaine dies, he leaves a vacuum within the voice over industry, one that veteran Sam Sotto (Melamed) would like to fill but he’s too aware of his own limitations to do so, and decides to support up and coming Gustav Warren (Marino) instead. His daughter, Carol (Bell) works as a dialect coach, and while she would like to break into voice over work, the industry’s male-dominated nature – as well as Sam’s dismissal of her chances to succeed – keeps her from trying. One day, while she’s teaching Eva Longoria to speak with a Cockney accent, Carol is asked by Heners (Offerman) to provide the voice over for the trailer for a children’s movie, one that Gustav was meant to do but which he hasn’t shown up for. Helped by Louis (Martin), a sound engineer at the studio, Carol nails the voice over and begins to gain further trailer work on other children’s movies.
Gustav is upset by this, but Sam regards this development as a flash in the pan (neither of them know it’s Carol at this point). When Gustav hosts a party for everyone in the industry, Carol attends with her father and sister, Dani (Watkins). Gustav seduces Carol, much to the disgust and disappointment of Louis who has a crush on her, and the bemusement of her co-workers at the sound mixing studio. When Carol is picked to voice the trailer for the upcoming futuristic fantasy movie The Amazon Games, and they plan to use the iconic phrase “in a world…” to begin the voice over, the news is greeted less than warmly by Sam. He forces the issue with the movie’s producers, making them commit to an audition process. Now facing competition from her father and Gustav, Carol almost throws in the towel, but Louis convinces her to go ahead with her audition tape. At the Golden Trailer Awards, where Sam is to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, the trailer’s first showing will reveal the producers’ choice.
Riffing off the death of LaFontaine, a real-life voice over artist, In a World… at first appears uncomfortably opportunistic, but thanks to Bell’s sure hand on the tiller, this feeling is soon dispensed with. Writing as well as directing, Bell brings the audience into a world just as narcissistic and competitive as any other, but imbues it with enough good-natured characters and charm to offset the rampant ambition and casual backstabbing (Sam drops Gustav as soon as he knows Carol’s got the Amazon Games gig). Indeed it’s only Sam who’s truly horrible, and Bell handles Carol’s scenes with him with understated simplicity, painting a portrait of a fractured relationship that shows no sign of ever being repaired. Carol’s frustration with her father’s outdated sexist approach, as well as his lack of support for her and her career, are convincingly highlighted, and the way in which she deals with them completely plausible (it helps that Carol doesn’t have all the answers to the problems that beset her).
In her private life, Carol succumbs a little too easily to Gustav’s attentions, but there’s a lovely moment later when Louis declares his “liking” for her, and while this aspect of the script is less than persuasive, by the time it arrives the movie has built up so much good will it doesn’t matter. There’s a subplot involving Dani and a guest at the hotel where she works, and whether or not she cheats on husband Moe (Corddry), and while it provides some much needed drama, it’s easily and neatly resolved, as are pretty much all the conflicts Bell’s script creates for her characters. The movie relies on Carol’s placid nature throughout, and though there are plenty of laughs to be had, these are largely due to the activities and actions of the supporting cast – Notaro as deadpan lesbian Cher, Allynne as predatory receptionist Nancy, Offerman and Corddry. Bell is an appealing presence as Carol, and proves an unselfish actor in scene after scene. She draws good performances from her cast (Watkins and Corddry shine), and directs with an ease that some veteran directors never attain. If the movie suffers from anything, it’s a lightness of touch that could have been fatal in the hands of someone less committed to the material.
Rating: 7/10 – satisfying for the most part, In a World… is a treat, but one that might not bear repeated viewings; it’s a great “debut” for Bell to be sure, but a little too lightweight in its execution to be truly memorable.