IN A WORLD... Home Video Review

It takes a lot to make something look effortless. Whether you're talking about beauty or comedy, two things that don't often share the same space, it is necessary to have a large amount of preparation or thought in order to perpetrate something genuine into a format where the atmosphere is all but that and still allow such a precise quality to shine through. It has always been said that comedy is much harder to understand, much harder to pin down and really get right than say, a serious drama. Comedy is purely subjective, to every single person that is witness to it and to be able to craft a piece of art that doesn't come off as pretentious in its intention or narcissistic in its execution is to somehow be able to convey your dislike of certain aspects of society without alienating what might make up your audience. Comedy is about being up-front and honest, about peeling back the obvious that we don't like to acknowledge and in that we not only find ways to relate to the subjects of a piece, but we come to find what side of the fence we land on in the perspective of the creator and how that person who is specific to a region, generation, or political party might take on the world and view the issues and how we might solve them, or in the case of comedies, why it is necessary to laugh at most things. In the case of In a World... the sole creator and architect is credited to Lake Bell, the actress you've probably seen a million times in smaller parts and supporting roles whose name escapes you. As the writer/director/star of the film she is able to take on not only the voice-over industry and the role that women play in it (or don't) as well as the ideas and observations about the legacy of parents and its impending pressure on their offspring that results in a lack of support as well as the dynamic of relationships and how it's the details of the companionship rather than the details of the person that make it work and ultimately worthwhile. There is admittedly a ton of stuff going on in the movie but Bell, at the head of her first feature, somehow manages to shepherd these ideas and situations into a cohesive piece of work that ends up feeling beautifully funny and yes, effortless.

Louis (Demetri Martin) insists that Carol (Lake Bell) take his room the night before her big day.
As you can guess from the title of the film Bell centers her world around the voice-over industry and how the gimmick in which the title refers has now reached the point of becoming so iconic or well regarded that like a classic TV show Hollywood finds it time to now revive it. The world is changing though and so it is not out of the question to think that Bell's Carol, a voice coach who believes she is ready to break into the industry despite her fathers constant pessimism, might score the gig. Her father, Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed), is a voice over legend who came up with the great Don LaFontaine and seeks to leave his own legacy while clearly having constantly dealt with the shadow that was LaFontaine. Instead of putting in his own bid to take on LaFontaine's signature phrase though he decides to stick his neck out for Gustav Warner (Ken Marino) one of the few voice over artists raking in the real money today. It is when Carol is called in to do some coaching for Eva Longoria during a looping session that she stumbles upon the opportunity to record some voice-over for an animated movie trailer. This is done at the suggestion of Louis (Demetri Martin) who works at a studio doing work for various films and commercials along with Cher (Tig Notaro) and Heners (Nick Offerman). Louis may or may not also have a slight crush on Carol and when her voice-over work on the trailer pleases the studio heads she begins to get more offers and more work. She is taking gigs left and right, even out from under Gustav who doesn't realize who she is she doesn't share her fathers last name and doesn't share her recent success with him when he courts her at his own party. The film doesn't waste time on the dynamics between a relationship that might be forming between Gustav and Carol as it is clear from the opening scene that she is meant to end up with Martin's Louis, but the storyline dealing with Carols sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her husband Moe (Rob Corddry), does feel slightly tacked on despite the fact we become invested in it while the fact that it does re-enforce the relationship between the sisters when it comes to dealing with their fathers treatment of them and his new relationship with a thirty-something (Alexandra Holden) who seems to genuinely care for Sam despite the stigma attached to the relationship.

These countless characters in some ways would be cause for alarm yet Bell is able to weave them all seamlessly through her protagonist as instead of allowing each person to get bogged down in their own lives she simply allows them to exist and inform how they affect her characters day to day. This even comes to be true in the relationship between her sister and brother-in-law that are rightfully included simply due to the performances Corddry and Watkins give. Corddry is one of those guys that pops up in countless films and has even had larger, more integral roles in others, but who never appears will really have that one breakout role that will supply him the weight to be a leading comedic force. Though he is no doubt cast here due to his connection with Bell through Children's Hospital he is, for the first time it feels, able to do some real acting and show range that doesn't just include him quipping sarcastically. It should be known everywhere that Michaela Watkins is great, but unfortunately it is not. After her too short stint on Saturday Night Live she has been resigned to the best friend role in one too many lifeless romantic comedies though if she keeps garnering TV work as she has since her SNL departure and showing up in little indies like this and Enough Said there is no reason to think she won't at least get some of the cred she so rightly deserves. Besides these two though there are several other pure comedic actors who get to stretch their skills and show us there is more to them than stand-up material. This is especially true with Martin who is a complete goof with an insecure shell that stumbles so badly every time he's around Carol it's hard to believe he can even look her in the eye. While Martin has had film roles here and there he too hasn't been given that breakout he seems destined for (sorry, Taking Woodstock) though it also doesn't seem clear that's the path he wants to follow. Regardless, he is completely lovable here and allows it to make complete sense as to why the relationship between Gustav and Carol goes nowhere and why it is, for lack of a better word, destiny that he and Carol share a cute, quirky life together making peoples lives more enjoyable one ad campaign at a time. Sure, there could have been some characters cut, some scenes shortened and situations deleted while better streamlining the plight of our main character, but it somehow feels the world here wouldn't be as authentic and that quality is what allows Bell's first venture to stand out.  

Carol has a rocky relationship with her father (Fred Melamed) and his young as she is girlfriend (Alexandra Holden).
In the end, In a World... is a perfectly competent if not above average piece of writing and directing that conveys a certain amount of themes through a small, fun world that not too many think about yet those invested in clearly think the world of. I wasn't sure what to expect as I didn't have a real picture of Bell's actual personality from her previous roles or work, but while she is clearly someone who appreciates the ability to survive on artistic endeavors she also has a very non-confrontational take on the working class. She loves her sister as much as anyone and she works in the hotel industry while she only doubts humanity (and her fellow females) because of the current obsession with house wife reality shows and smoothies. In this context it is interesting to take the film and its female outlook as both a message to women who submit themselves to what those types of shows and trends treat them as in society and how they can easily buck those trends even if those in charge see it as simply being ahead of the game. In one of the final scenes of the film we are introduced to the studio head, as portrayed by Geena Davis, that allows Carol's voice to be the most appropriate choice for the latest young adult adaptation coming down the pipeline. She is sure to tell her though, despite Carols countless thank yous, that she was not chosen because she was the best but because her tone, her sex will relate most to the core audience and they're the ones they need to subliminally attract and keep coming back for the sequels that will rake in billions of dollars. Carol understands this as it is a business strategy and doesn't allow it to devastate her because she realizes that no matter how unfair it is, a woman will never have the luck to not compromise in these types of artistic situations. If she wants to actually succeed and make a living in the world of voices and language she will have to do things and take jobs she wouldn't typically associate with her "true voice". It is a hard truth to swallow, but Carol also seems to understand how lucky she is to have the opportunity at all and so her qualms with all the details are let go and she simply accepts some things while striving to change that line of thought over the long haul in the ways she feels she can. It is smartly written, loosely acted film with no sense of conditions on the characters and a tone that floats between fun, desperate, disappointed, anxious, and a thousand other small facets of emotion that flow in and out of these characters lives; you know, kind of like our own.

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