Lake Bell wrote, directed and stars in 'In a World...,' and if she's anything like the character she created, I can tell that she's a good person. That's why it pains me to ultimately dismiss her (allegedly) quirky comedy that debuted at this year's Sundance. I like her, I'd be down to hang out in the world she's created, I'm just not interested in watching this convention-driven film version of this story.
'In a World...' is doubly disappointing because it has a great elevator pitch. The talented daughter of an imposing, legendary voice-over artist tries to make it in that very male-dominated field. There are romantic entanglements, accusations, awkward dinner table moments and, eventually, catharsis at the Golden Trailer Awards -- this last bit is every bit as lengthy and insufferable as an actual Hollywood awards show.
Fred Melamed plays Dad (Sy Ableman from the Coen Bros.' 'A Serious Man') and he wastes no time in showing off his booming pipes. Ken Marino is the heir apparent to the throne, and it looks like he'll get the gig for 'The Amazon Games,' the first movie trailer in years to include the famous phrase "in a world" in its voice-over copy.
Bell's character is just as talented as the boys (perhaps more so, given her ability to mimic accents), but her place is as a lowly vocal coach. (A scene of her trying to show Eva Longoria how to talk with a cockney accent is quite amusing.) She has a support team in the scrappy recording studio she works out of, particularly in engineer Demetri Martin. While it is impossible to watch Martin and wonder what his scenes would have been like if the production could have secured Jason Schwartzman, he's endearing in his puppy love for the pretty-yet-approachable Bell.
'In a World...' stumbles with its share of uninteresting B-stories. Michaela Watkins plays Bell's sister, married to Rob Corddry. There is a LOT of time spent in their airless apartment, and the writing is sitcom-worthy at best. (Indeed, a scene where the sexy neighbor comes to take a shower is pure 'Three's Company.')
Another odd choice is beginning the picture with a collection of clips about Don LaFontaine, the late, actual thunder-throated King of voice-over. (Believe me, you'd recognize him if you heard him.) Melamed's Sam and others acknowledge him in an industry party scene, but this blending of fantasy and reality goes a surprisingly long way to shatter the suspension of disbelief. In 'In a World...,' Melamed is enough of a star to have a hit autobiography and groupies, yet he acknowledges he was second banana to LaFontaine. I don't recall him being so beloved by the masses. The fact that I spent time ruminating on this instead of being under the spell of the film ought to tell you something about its merits.
Melamed is a genuine jerk to his daughters, but 60 seconds before the film ends he miraculously and annoyingly turns into a nice man. An epilogue shows Bell not just the new star of the voice-over industry, but a feminist activist offering workshops to California women who sound like baby dolls. Call me crazy, but I found that offensive to women who naturally end each sentence with a question mark. Maybe, baby, they were born this way?
'In a World...' is exactly the type of movie that comes out of Sundance and haunts me. The people I see once a year will no doubt tell me they saw some neat indie film, but this would be better classified as a pilot for a sitcom. Adding insult, there isn't THAT much material of the characters doing cool voices. I know the first rule of show business is to "always leave them wanting more," but it isn't to also "substitute it with something generic."
'In a World...' premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.