In a World...Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/16/13 09:46:34
SCREENED AT THE 2013 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON: Funny thing; even when trailers starting with "in a world..." supposedly happened all the time, I don't ever recall hearing it enough to snicker when it did show up. Still, the very fact that people act like it was ubiquitous makes it a good title for a comedy set in the competitive world of voice-over narration - the audience knows exactly what it's about when they hear the name. It's a shame, then, that the movie itself doesn't always seem quite so clear on what it's trying to accomplish.While the voice most of us identify with movie previews belonged to Don LaFontaine, In a World... gives us Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed) as the clear #2 and heir to LaFontaine's throne. His daughter Carol Solomon (Lake Bell) lives in his house is sort of in the same business, working as a dialect coach since she has a fantastic ear for accents. With Sam's much-younger girlfriend Jamie (Alexandra Holden) moving in, Carol winds up crashing with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her husband Moe (Rob Corddry). She also winds up getting a couple of voice-over jobs, and may be in a position to get the most coveted job of all - a trailer for an adaptation of a hot series of young-adult novels, previously expected to go to Sam's protégé Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), where those three words will be used for the first time since LaFontaine's death.
That may seem like a small and silly thing to fixate on, but that's what makes it potentially such great material for a comedy: It practically guarantees eccentricity from its characters, puts them in odd situations, and the very fact that what they're gunning for is so seemingly trivial makes the lengths that people will go to achieve it even funnier. Writer/director/star Bell seems to get that most of the time, especially as she loads up the film with truly oddball characters. Carol "collects" accents and practically has her hair stand up on end whenever she hears a grown woman talking like a teen valley girl (especially Jamie), Gustav is bizarrely self-centered, and everyone at the recording studio where she works is full of people who would be misfits anywhere else - including and especially sweetly awkward sound engineer Louis (Demetri Martin). It's an ensemble with a lot of potential.
The voice-over stuff is amusingly quirky enough that I wish Bell had stuck closer to it. For instance, Dani & Moe are great supporting characters - Watkins and Corddry bounce off each other and Bell as nicely as you please - but spending a lot of time on their flirtations which lead to jealousy and so on and so forth, especially when Carol's story seems to be running in place, isn't that great an idea. There are times when Sam and Gustav cross the line from self-centered to just really awful in ways that need to be addressed more directly than they are. Also, Bell only occasionally takes advantage of her actual facility for accents and vocal patterns - for as much as this is what her character is supposed to be good at and as much as the movie is about choosing how to communicate, that sort of thing should come up much more often.
That's a bit of a rookie mistake; this is Bell's first feature as a writer/director, and there are a few of those. Like a scene where she's got Carol trying to surreptitiously record someone with what is by today's standards a pretty large microcassette recorder, and the joke seems to be that she's being really obvious about it... and then there's no punchline until later, when it's suddenly a weird obsolete thing again. The last act jams a bunch of ideas together in ways that don't quite fit so that they frequently come across as things that have to happen rather than payoffs. It's a shame, because Bell's individual gags are often quite funny; she just needs to get them pulling in the same direction.
She's at least got the knack for selling these gags on-screen, as does the rest of the cast. She's got a leg up by having wrote the script, but she does well in making Carol confident in the right places and having them fit hand-in-glove with when she's not; she also does a lot better than many people writing and directing themselves in keeping vanity out of the performance. She's also generous, giving a lot of the really funny material to her co-stars. Fred Melamed may mostly be cast because he does have a ridiculously great voice for the part, but the way he runs with Sam's over-the-top pride in it is what makes him funny. Ken Marino's voice isn't quite on that level, but he's very good at playing Gustav as being as much a weirdo as a jerk. Michaela Watkins is a near-perfect fit as Carol's sister, and Rob Corddry is at his most appealing and funny as her husband. Demetri Martin's Louis initially looks a bit young to be a legitimate love interest rather than just having a crush, but it's something that works as the movie goes on. A lot of people do well in smaller roles - Alexandra Holden, Tig Notaro, Nick Offeman, Geena Davis - with perhaps the funniest of these bits going to a self-deprecating Eva Longoria.She's a great sport, as are a number of other people who pop up in the movie. It's got a fair number of funny bits that it spreads around nicely, and on the whole more gags probably work than don't. I wish they all came together a little better, because despite it being a fun milieu, I don't know if anyone will every make another comedy in this particular world.
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