By Simon Miraudo
March 4, 2014
Lake Bell, like Rashida Jones and Olivia Wilde before her, just up and made herself a star. The immensely talented comic actress hasn’t been given much to chew on of late, being alternately relegated to the role of quirky/sassy/supportive best friend or the icy, sexy, younger wife of someone’s dad. But no longer! Though she had to write, direct, and produce the damn thing herself, Bell finally has a film that puts her full range of comedic, rom-com-ready abilities on display.
In a World, a charming ensemble comedy about the insular community of trailer voice-over artists, is full of rich characters, snappy dialogue, and voices so sonorous you could bathe in them. Bell plays Carol, daughter of legendary trailer man Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed, whose resonant monologues from A Serious Man are still ringing in my ear). Stuck coaching actors to speak certain dialects (specifically, at the movie’s start, Eva Longoria, hilariously needing help to sound cockney), she suddenly finds herself in contention for the gig of a lifetime: voicing the new teaser for epic blockbuster The Amazon Games, and getting to spit the iconic opening line from trailers of yore, “In a World…” (retired after the death of real-life V/O legend Don LaFontaine). Her competition for the part, however, includes dear old dad, skeezy up-and-comer Gustav Warner (an effectively slimy Ken Marino), decades of industry prejudice against her gender, and, well, a general lack of self-esteem.
The flick is littered with Bell’s funny friends, including her Childrens Hospital castmates Marino and Rob Corddry, not to mention Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro, and Stephanie Allynne. (Watkins is particularly good as Bell’s sister and Corddry’s wandering wife). A couple of big stars even lend their wattage to the picture’s closing, climactic announcement. The caliber of the on-screen talent here is a testament to Bell’s reputation, though getting her pals on board is not indicative of her skill as a writer and director. They might have signed on regardless. It sure helps, then, that Bell’s screenplay is fresh and frothier than most recent studio comedies, and her breezy direction (despite a miniscule budget) helps keep this low-stakes frolic from feeling like three-episodes of a sit-com strung together.
In a World happily hammers home its female empowerment message, from Carol’s raging against the masculine machine, to the literal content of The Amazon Games (a dystopian thriller set “in a world” where women have taken over from men). Maybe a little on the nose, but it would still take a hardened heart to roll your eyes at it. The fact Bell – a would-be Sandy Bullock if someone gave her a shot– had to write a feature to get such a good role, and to put female characters in the foreground, is proof enough that sometimes the message needs to be hammered home, and perhaps with a mallet rather than a ball-peen. The biggest upshot of Bell being forced to make the movie herself? It simultaneously introduced a fine writer-director to the world, and not just a sparkling comedienne.
In a World is now playing the Perth International Arts Festival.