In a World: Flawed Fun

IN A WORLD (2013)
Written and directed by Lake Bell
Team G, 97 minutes, R (language and sexual references)
* * *

In A World takes its title from three signature words uttered by famed Hollywood voice-over artist Don LaFontaine (1940-2008). His were the sepulcher tones that reverberated over some 5,000 movie trailers, many of them B-pictures on the theme of apocalyptic doom. Actress Lake Bell, who wrote, directed, and starred in this film, takes us inside a specialized world that few of us consider–the part of the sound industry devoted specifically to voice. Did you ever wonder what Alan Kalter of The David Letterman Show or Don Pardo of Saturday Night Live do when they are not announcing the Top Ten list or intoning, “Live––from New York…?” Answer: Something else like it. This is how they make their living.

Bell won a Best Screenwriting award at Sundance for In a World, a classic “small” film and one that’s equal parts clever and derivative, funny and lame, bold and predictable. She plays Carol Solomon, a 31-year-old slacker voice coach who still lives with her father in Los Angeles. We meet Carol in a studio where she’s working with Eva Longoria, who can’t seem to enunciate a single intelligible syllable. (Yep­–that’s about right!)  Carol's old man is a Hollywood legend widely regarded as second only to LaFontaine in the voiceover pantheon, though not everyone knows this as he uses the stage name of Sam Soto (get it?). Sam (Fred Melamel) wants Carol to move out so his new girlfriend, Jamie (Alexandra Holden), can move in. It would indeed be awkward as, in good movie industry tradition, the bubbly and bubble-headed Jamie’s a year younger than Carol.

No problem–Carol is such a drifter that it takes all of thirty seconds to stuff her scruffy wardrobe into a laundry bag. She begs her way onto the sofa of a small flat occupied by her sister Dani  (Michaela Watkins) and her husband, Moe (Rob Corddry). Carol uses this base to sustain her so-called career, much of it pursued in a studio where sound engineer Louis (Demetri Martin) toils. He and his ditzy receptionist Nancy (Stephanie Allyne) are maybe the only two people in all of LA who are more awkward, clueless, and bumbling than Carol. Can you predict that Louis and Carol will do a flamingo dance around each other?

Of course you can! You can probably also figure out in advance that Sam’s protégé, the egotistical but dumb-as-a-rock Gustav (Ken Marino), will play the role of Chekov’s gun, and you may well be able to predict who will be “the voice” for a “quadrilogy” directed by Katherine Huling (Geena Davis) that involves a post-male society of female warriors. The latter is a not-so-subtle but funny slap at The Hunger Games and is used as a didactic blunt instrument to explore themes of what modern feminism means (and doesn’t).

Whoa! The latter theme sounds serious, and so it is–sort of. This is ultimately the problem with In a World. Like so many films these days, it tries to do too much and ends up shortchanging a few of its plots. Other storylines emerge, such as sisterly bonding, family scars, professional rivalry, mushy family values, and whether or not Carol is actually Cinderella or just a sloppy gal with a bad wardrobe. Luckily the script has a few gems hidden amidst the bubblegum. It also has a goofy charm. Is it a good film? Probably not. Is it worth seeing? Sure–why not? It takes us inside a world we’d otherwise not glimpse, and there are a few laugh-out-loud moments. The rest is a bit like the Fanta flogged in one of the more ham-handed product placements of recent memory–sweet, but with artificial after notes.  Rob Weir

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