In an age where original ideas are in short supply, a comedy spotlighting the voice-over industry is one sure to raise impressed eyebrows. Keenly aware of this hook, writer/director/producer/star Lake Bell makes the most of the under-explored business with In A World…, utilizing her Childrens Hospital friends and their extended network to hilarious, heartfelt ends.
Looking like a pro in her feature directorial debut, Bell shines as Carol Solomon, a freelance L.A. vocal coach who’d love to break into the male-dominated niche of voicing film trailers. Armed with an impressive array of comedic talent, the film makes its mark through honest humor that’s quirky but realistic. When friend and studio engineer Louis (Demetri Martin) leaves Carol a voice mail containing the word “retarded,” then calls himself out for being insensitive, the joke feels streamlined without calling too much attention to itself. Instead of coming off like an unnaturally well-timed cit-com gag (as it would have in many modern peers), the comment simply flows, a welcome pattern soon to be repeated throughout this wonderful film.
Such authentically off-the-cuff dialogue sets the stage for Carol’s fascination with voices (her tape recorder is never far off) and a tongue-in-cheek peek inside the industry thanks to a sudden career opportunity. After filling in on a few animated film spots and impressing her clients, she finds herself up for voicing the trailer for the forthcoming quadrilogy The Amazon Games, a highly coveted gig that throws the whole business into disarray. The big deal here is the return of the titular phrase, which hasn’t been used to introduce an epic since the passing of Don LaFontaine, the man who made those three words famous.
With Carol in the running, it’s only fitting that the trailer in question be not merely a fun jab at The Hunger Games and other pseudo-feminist stories dominating the pop culture landscape, but also a sly metaphor for her male-dominated field. In this environment, her own legendary father Sam (Fred Melamed, not exactly the planet’s most handsome fellow) holds rock star status that continues to land him groupies while his protégée Gustav Werner (Ken Marino) exudes a mysterious celebrity that, in one of the film’s best lines, is compared to that of Jay Gatsby. These amusing personalities collide often, and as ego, family, and love intertwine, Bell orchestrates the exchanges with both industry reverence and a license to lampoon its many ridiculous elements.
For all that it gets right, however, In A World… is not without its freshman missteps. The central theme is overtly stated a few times, namely from the lips of Amazon Games producer Katherine Huling (Geena Davis), and the marriage woes of Carol’s sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her husband Moe (Rob Corddry, delivering some masterful one-liners) have little bearing on the story. Far more than not, the quality laughs keep coming in the cast’s well-oiled style. Rich in chemistry and among the best in their industry (naturally, Nick Offerman is also involved), these gifted folks do right by Bell’s words and together make one of the year’s best comedies.
Rated R for language including some sexual references.
In A World… is currently playing at the Fine Arts Theatre on Biltmore Ave.