Movie Review: In a World...
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Apparently there exists a very competitive and specific world in Hollywood, the fruits of which are often heard but not seen. It is the acting niche of voice-over work. And it is an arena filled with peculiar, egomaniacal characters who take themselves and their instruments very seriously.
Actress Lake Bell, known for her roles in romantic comedy movies and appearances on TV’s “Children’s Hospital” and “Boston Legal,” wrote, directed and stars in “In a World …,” a surprisingly heartfelt and whimsical satirization of the voice-over industry couched in a family drama.
The title refers to the famous phrase that has started many movie trailers. It’s almost impossible not to hear the sonorous baritone voice of an announcer saying those words as you read them on the page.
Though the movie voice-over world has long been dominated by men, Bell’s Carol Solomon wants to crack into the business. A struggling voice coach, Carol has observed the voice-over world from its periphery for years. Her dad, Sam Sotto (the spectacular Fred Melamed), his name a play on his hushed but resonant voice, has held the position as the top dog in the industry for years. While he encourages his daughter to pursue her teaching career, if only to make enough money to move out of his house, he scoffs at the idea that she could carve a career for herself in the male-dominated industry.
When her co-worker Louis (Demetri Martin) helps get her some temporary work, Carol gets thrust into the race for the voice-over position on a massive studio quadrilogy. The “Hunger Games”-type film about a group of female warriors spoofs the ridiculousness of summer blockbusters while also riffing on the theme of female empowerment that serves as a linchpin in “In a World …”
But getting the part won’t be easy. Carol discovers that a self-important sleazeball with a soft side, Gustav (Ken Marino), the ascendant darling of the voice-over world, is also hungry for the role. After a comedic sexual romp of confused identities, Carol and Gustav become competitors, only to be joined by Carol’s father, who suddenly is not satisfied to ride off into the sunset in his velour track suit, underage girlfriend in tow.
Carol must endure her career uncertainty from the humiliating position of her sister (Michaela Watkins) and brother-in-law’s (Rob Corddry) couch, to which she’s been relegated by her father’s May-December romance. Her awkward position as house guest pushes the well-intentioned but bumbling and obsessive Carol into the middle of a romantic crisis between her sister and brother-in-law. It is one of several subplots that fire off from the movie’s general storyline in quick bursts. But Bell always finds a way to make each digression loop back and close the circle.
Among those minor plots are a cute and confusing romantic dalliance between Carol and Louis that captures the complications of dating and communicating; a thread of passive-aggressive father-daughter competition; a hilarious skewering of the annoying trend of grown women talking like sexy babies; and the story of an aging warrior (Sam) coming to terms with his fading glory.
Bell always finds a way to return to the theme of female empowerment and the complications of being a woman in a male-dominated field, without ever feeling preachy or overwrought, and the movie offers a few twists that play against audience expectations.
Bell won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance for the screenplay, and the movie crackles with quick-witted observations about the narcissism of Hollywood. But “In a World …” doesn’t fall victim to the sin of vanity, and Carol never comes across as haughty or too smart. Bell’s Carol is a contradiction, at once confident and insecure, but she charms with her imperfections and earnestness and wins you over with both her empathy and vulnerability.
“In a World …” can feel as chaotic as Carol’s inner-workings, but it captures a jumbled sense of hopefulness, anxiety and joy without being obnoxious. It is a refreshing and unique film that marks the longtime romantic comedy side player as not only a leading lady but an impressive writing talent with a considerable future.