A clever, character-centric comedy that’s got a great cast and is framed by such a strangely peculiar backdrop that it sets itself apart.
In a World…
Remember Don LaFontaine? He’s the movie trailer guy; the “In a world…” guy. You know, the deep, gravelly voice that announced countless movie trailers in the ‘80s and ‘90s. LaFontaine, who has now left us, left a hole in the movie industry as grand and deep as his legendary baritone rumble. In the fictional world of In a World…, Lake Bell’s writer/director debut (she also stars), three voiceover artists bite, backstab, and dupe each other as they battle it out to assume LaFontaine’s now vacant throne.
Carol (Bell) is a smart-ass semi-slacker and aspiring voiceover artist with a kind heart. Her dad thinks her dream of voiceover success is a big joke and treats her like a loser. He happens to be the biggest winner of them all, Sam Sotto (the invaluable Fred Melamed), a pot-bellied egomaniac with a voice as smooth and rich as molasses and the most successful voiceover artist since LaFontaine (he’s still bitterly jealous of the deceased because, as you’ve probably surmised, he’s a self-involved dick.) Sam’s protégé is young, big-shot voiceover artist Gustav Werner (Ken Marino), a McMansion-owning scumbag whose douchiness is only matched by his mentor’s. He finds Carol’s dream just as laughable as Sam does. The two buddies are successful trailer guys, but from their bloated egos you’d think they were the biggest stars in showbiz (they conspire by the pool, they make snide one-liners at swanky parties, they spit misogynistic vitriol in the sauna.)
When a career-defining trailer gig opens up (for a sort of feminist Hunger Games-ish mega-blockbuster), Sam and Gustav are considered (mostly by themselves) top contenders, but Carol’s been quietly building steam in the industry herself, even (unknowingly) beating out Gustav for a few gigs. She’s wriggled her way into the dark horse position, and the jockeying turns into a maelstrom, with Sam backstabbing Gustav, Gustav sleeping with Carol (he corners her in a secret room full of oddities in his mansion and makes out with her nose), and Carol shoving her dad’s disgust for her ambition right back in his face.
The film is also a family drama, an ensemble comedy, a Hollywood satire, and a cute romance, with some feminist through lines thrown in for good measure. This is its biggest setback; there are so many subplots and asides at work that it becomes narratively scatterbrained and unwieldy. Dimitri Martin plays Louis, Bell’s nerdy-nice-guy producer and love interest. They make a nice pairing, and Martin’s shy tip-toeing is sweet. In other romantic news, the always on-point Michaela Watkins plays Bell’s sister, Dani, who’s happily married to Moe (Rob Corddry), though she flirts with danger as her eye wanders to her dashingly European boss, Jason O’Mara. Oh, and then there’s the family dynamic between Carol, Dani, Sam, and his creepily young girlfriend.
These subplots are acted very, very well by the cast, which is brimming with standouts (Nick Offerman, Geena Davis, and even Eva Longoria also join the fray.) However, what ends up happening is they detract from Bell’s guided tour of the sleazy, cutthroat world of voiceover actors, which is In a World…’s best asset; it provides the most interesting, unique, and hilarious moments. I only wish Bell made more room for it.
What’s really great about Carol’s storyline is that it ends on a note of female empowerment which is incredibly uplifting and fulfilling. I grew to care about Carol very much, and to see her come out the other side the way she does made me leave the film happy. It just feels like Bell was so dead-set on fitting every clever idea she had into the script that she ended up with a busier script than it needed to be. Still, In a World… is a clever, character-centric comedy that’s got a great cast and is framed by such a strangely peculiar backdrop that it sets itself apart.