If you thought it was tough for women to find juicy acting roles, imagine how much worse it is in the male-dominated voiceover industry, where a booming voice can be like money in the bank. It's a field that not many people are familiar with, and probably don't realize just how much the right voice can affect the way we look at things. It's also an occupation rife with comic potential, which the supremely talented Lake Bell brings to life in her charming directorial debut, In a World...
Capturing the spirit of those great Christopher Guest comedies like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, Bell both honors and pokes fun at the people behind the voices, while cleverly exploring sexism within the industry. Everybody at one point or another has heard the thunderous "In a world...." that would open numerous movie trailers and commercials. The phrase was supposedly coined by Don LaFontaine, the late king of the voiceover, who is honored at the beginning of the film in a series of famous TV spots. Bell plays Carol, the plucky but aimless daughter of Sam Sotto (the hilarious Fred Melamed), a legend in the field and seen as LaFontaine's successor. Carol hopes to follow in her father's footsteps, but finds that breaking in is impossibly hard for a woman, and it's even tougher when her dad is less than supportive. Struggling along as a vocal coach, Carol is forced to move in with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her husband Moe (Rob Corddry), who are experiencing marital difficulties.
Bell gives us a sense of the tight-knit nature of the voiceover world, where the same handful of guys compete for the same jobs, both supporting and double-crossing one another to gain whatever advantage they can find. It's a very insular world where status is everything, and everybody is trying to be the next Don LaFontaine. So it causes quite a stir when Carol nails a test vocal track for a new film called Welcome to the Jungle Gym, and suddenly she's winning jobs that hot shot upstart Gustav Warner (Ken Marino) thought belonged to him. In particular she's now considered a favorite for the most sought-after job in town, a Hunger Games knock-off titled The Amazon Games (look for a funny cameo in the faux trailer). The various romantic mishaps and awkward encounters between Gustav and Carol are a touch sitcomy, but a better, more natural one emerges for her in dorky audio engineer Louis (Demitri Martin).
An up 'n comer for years who was initially pegged as just another hot young actress, Bell has been slowly coming into her own of late in films like A Good Old Fashioned Orgy and Black Rock, while finding success on the small screen in How to Make It In America and Children's Hospital. It was on the latter where she really began to find her comedic voice, and sometimes In a World slips into the same sort of craziness that defines the show. It helps that she's secured a fantastic ensemble with Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro, and Stephanie Allynne; while Geena Davis (!?!) pops up out of the blue to hammer home a message of female empowerment. Tonal issues crop up as Bell tries to connect the wackier elements, mostly revolving around the characters' disastrous dating escapades, with the more sobering marital woes between Dani and Moe.
Bell proves to be a natural behind the camera, getting sincere and heartfelt performances from her cast while maintaining the film's easy rhythm. Pulling triple duty as writer, director, and star is no simple task, but you'd never know it. In a World is a lot like its lead character, a little messy with more than its share of quirks, but also endearing and easy to love.