The attempt to satirise certain aspects of Hollywood in the movies tends to have that certain hit-and-miss quality. Basically, one is either on the mark with precise scathing or may be overwrought with exaggeration. In filmmaker Lake Bell’s touching and affectingly quirky comedy ‘In A World…’, she demonstrates a perceptive knack for examining the off-kilter artistry of the motion picture business, in this case a look at voice-over artists within the realm of glossy male-dominated movie trailers.
Bell (who stars, directs and writes) concocts a winning formula in her first feature film debut that manages to intertwine feminine empowerment, professional independence, familial discord, romantic entanglements and the fickle game known as the trenches of voiceover performances into one delightfully scatter-brained gem. Refreshingly breezy, smart, observant and spirited, ‘In A World…’ strikes a brilliant balance in its commentary about movie-making politics on a smaller scale where one determined woman can literally have her voice heard within the scheme of her own convictions.
Carol (Bell) is a struggling vocal coach looking for that big break into the world of voice-over work for movie projects. The trouble is that she takes a backseat to achieving her dream work in the shadows of her father Sam (Fred Melamed), an egomaniac who happens to be one of the best legendary voice-over artists working in the business. Naturally, Carol has been around watching her father ascend to career greatness but Sam lets her know that he is not going to lift a finger to help her realise her ambition in pursuing the voice-over endeavors that cultivated his personalised success.
Clearly, there are father-daughter issues between Sam and Carol that stem beyond their competitive nature for the specific side of show business that many people overlook, the appreciation for vocalization on the big screen.
When Sam asks Carol to vacate his premises so that he can make room for his 30 year-old blonde trophy girl-friend Jamie (Alexandria Holden) to live at his place, she ends up staying with her stuffy hotel concierge sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and film editing brother-in-law Gary (Rob Corddry) at their small apartment. The marriage between Dani and Gary is strained and Carol’s presence there does not help matter any. Dani, much like Carol, has definite resentment for her father Sam as he evidently had his heated nostalgic moments with their burdensome mother as he rose to ‘voice-over’ king in the movie industry.
Thankfully, Carol is recruited for an opportunity to do a voice-over for a movie trailer that impresses one of the bigwig movie studio insiders. Soon, low-paid vocal coach Carol is a hit as her time has come to bask in the glory of the voiceover career she has always coveted for many years. This is certainly terrific news that Carol wants to share with her self-absorbed hotshot father Sam.
Gradually, things become rather sticky as Carol is up for the lofty voice-over acting assignment for the movie trailer promoting a Hunger Games-style blockbuster called ‘Amazon Games’ featuring actress Cameron Diaz. The trouble, however, gets kind of complicated because unknowingly her father Sam backs his young ‘protégé’ in the equally braggart voiceover actor Gustav Werner (Ken Marino) to secure this very same heralded voiceover gig.
Eventually, the suave Gustav warms up to the pretty down-to-earth Carol at a lavish party thrown at his house. Their one night stand materializes without either one of them realising that they are rivals for the highly-publicized ‘Amazon Games’ movie trailer or the common denominator that they both have in common in mentor Sam. Carol’s sexual tryst with Gustav had slightly disillusioned sound engineer Louis (Demetri Martin) who has always craved for Carol’s affections. Nevertheless, Louis wants to ensure that Carol is prepared to get that notable ‘Amazon Games’ voice-over role that could possibly catapult her to stardom.
Skillfully, Bell has created a solid yet light-hearted entertainment about a unique part of movie-making in voiceover artistry that one would not necessarily think was sexy enough to sustain an interesting take on the less profiled side of the Hollywood machine. Bell, known as primarily a television actress, has a spunky niche for her insightful material that feels genuinely giddy and crafty. The performances are wickedly upbeat. Veteran performer Melamed, in particular, is devilishly amusing as the balding and beefy-built Sam whose arrogance and imbedded insecurities are played laughably to the hilt and certainly an Oscar-worthy turn. The enjoyable cameos from the likes of Eva Longoria, Geena Davis (portraying a feminist filmmaker with clout), Cameron Diaz and Jeff Garlin give the keen indie comedy a sense of mainstream Hollywood connection without too much flashiness involved. Even ‘The Hunger Games’ parody deserves a hearty chuckle in cleverness.
‘In A World…’ sends up the ingredients of sexism, romanticism, wacky family dynamics and the competing kookiness of behind-the-scenes Hollywood shuffling and serves it with gentle, stinging absurdity. Funny, liberating and introspective, Bell’s cinematic voice is indeed something that needs to be heard and it should not take a fictional movie trailer to accomplish this forethought.
In A World…(2013)
1 hr. 33 mins.
Starring: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Michaela Watkins, Rob Corddry, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, Alexandra Holden, Eva Longoria, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro, Geena Davis and Jeff Garlin
Directed by: Lake Bell
MPPA Rating: R
Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars).