Judge Patrick Bromley has a face for voiceover.
Speak up and let your voice be heard.
I remember when I first became a fan of Lake Bell. I was watching the otherwise-terrible 2008 comedy Over Her Dead Body, in which Eva Longoria plays a horrible woman who dies and comes back as a ghost to c-block her ex, played by Paul Rudd. It was the kind of bad movie that some sitcom star trying to make the leap to movies would have put out in the late '80s and would have rightly flopped (it also flopped in 2008). But right in the middle of the badness was Lake Bell, giving a funny, sincere performance as Paul Rudd's new love interest. She found humanity in the midst of what should have been embarrassing.
Since then, Bell has been everywhere: playing supporting roles in studio movies like What Happens in Vegas and It's Complicated, on TV in the brilliant Children's Hospital, starring in indie fare like last year's Black Rock. But Bell, perhaps frustrated by a lack of good projects for actresses, finally decided to take matters into her own hands by writing, directing and starring in the 2013 festival darling In a World….
Bell stars as Carol, a vocal coach in Hollywood who still lives her father, legendary voiceover artist Sam Soto (Fred Melamed, A Serious Man). She dreams of breaking into the world of voiceovers, but the male-dominated profession has little use for a female voice. When word hits that a hot new film is going to bring back the famous "In a world?" introduction for its upcoming trailer, Carol decides to throw her name into the mix—in competition against her own father and Gustav Warner (Ken Marino, Bad Milo), the arrogant and entitled heir to Soto's throne. With the help of Louis (comedian Demetri Martin, Take Me Home Tonight), an audio engineer with whom Carol shares a casual flirtation, Carol prepares to take the voiceover world by storm.
The short plot description barely scratches the surface of everything that's going on in In a World…, which is both a blessing and a curse. I failed to mention Carol's sister Dani (Michaela Watkins, Wanderlust), who is having some marital problems with her husband (played by Rob Corddry of Hot Tub Time Machine). There's Sam Soto's marriage to a much younger woman (Alexandra Holden, Sugar and Spice), which has all the makings of sitcom stuff but turns out to be something smarter and more soulful than we expect. There's the staff at the recording studio, which includes Nick Offerman (Kings of Summer) and Tig Notaro (The Sarah Silverman Program) and Stephanie Allynne (The League), who steals nearly every scene in which she appears. The movie is so full of subplots and supporting characters that it barely has time to be about what it's about; at the same time, it's always interesting and full of great actors doing fun or interesting work that it's a hard movie to dislike.
Part of my problem with In a World…—which, again, is a winning and charming first effort—is that I can't quite tell in what world the movie takes place. At times, it seems like a satire; the "voiceover world" is so overblown and taken so seriously that it seems like Bell is having a bit of fun and using a very small aspect of filmmaking (actually marketing) to say something about Hollywood at large. Other times, it's all played for real, as though Bell wants us to take it all seriously. The movie tries to have it two ways. While Bell's messages—particularly to young women who adopt the "sexy baby voice" in the hopes of attracting men—are well-intended and even necessary, there are moments at which In a World… is a little self-satisfied in the points that it makes.
It all speaks to a lack of focus. Perhaps that's because this is Bell's first film; she has so much that she wants to squeeze in that she sometimes fails to consider the effect the excess material has on the central story she's telling. Bell is too anxious to write good parts for her friends, which is how we get a major subplot about the marital difficulties of Michaela Watkins and Rob Corddry, two comic actors doing mostly dramatic work. The storyline, which has nothing to do with the larger plot, speaks very little to the themes of the movie. At the same time, it's well acted and compelling and being performed by stars we like. Shouldn't that be enough? Once you get a handle on the idea that In a World… is less about the world of voiceover artists and more about Carol's life, her family and her friends, the easier it is to settle into the film's groove and enjoy what Bell has put together.
Sony's Blu-ray release of In a World… is pretty much what one would expect for a studio indie like this: solid, no-frills A/V presentation, traditional bonus features. The 2.40:1 framed film is given a full 1080p HD transfer that's faithful to its source; it's sometimes soft and the colors are muted, but that's exactly how it looked when I saw the film theatrically. There doesn't appear to be any digital tinkering and the image is consistently clean. The lossless 5.1 soundtrack is tasked mostly with delivering the dialogue (it's a talky film, as it should be), which it handles ably. The coolest effects are reserved for some of the voiceover segments, as the voices of the various narrators (particularly Melamed) fill out the surrounding channels with clarity and authority.
Writer/director Bell has recorded a full-length commentary for her first feature that should be enjoyable for fans, as it provides a decent mix of production information and Bell's own insights without leaving a lot of dead space. She heaps a ton of praise on all of the actors and is clearly proud of the finished film. Also included are about 15 minutes of deleted scenes including a completely different opening to the movie and more footage of the Bachelor-esque reality show glimpsed throughout the film. The gag reel is a step up from the usual blooper offering if only because of how many gifted comedians are in the cast, and a collection of trailers showcasing the cast are much more interested than the usual fare.
In a World… is a good first movie—the kind that gets you excited to see what Lake Bell will do next. It's got a great cast, sharp dialogue, a lot of warmth and something to say. With all of that going for it, we can overlook the movie's rough edges.
Flawed, but not guilty.
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