Lake Bell’s directorial debut is a comedic look at the world of voice over actors, particularly those who specialize in narrating trailers. Taking its impetus from the real-life death of Don LaFontaine, the most famous of movie trailer voice over artist (and the progenitor of the “In a world” tagline from which the film gets its name), …In a World follows Carol (Bell) as she tries to become the first woman to break into the insular movie trailer narration industry. She gets her inspiration from her father, Sam (Fred Melamed), a mostly retired veteran of the industry, and finds her foil in hotshot rival Gustav (Ken Marino) as the three of them vie for a role that will revitalize the titular phrase.
Bell is well-connected in the comedy world (a foundational role in Childrens Hospital certainly helps in that matter), and a cornucopia of comedians is on board to fill out the supporting cast. From her sister (Michaela Watkins, who had an underrated run on Saturday Night Live) and her husband (Rob Corddry) to Marino to Nick Offerman and Tig Notaro, Bell has plenty of ammunition with which to make the laughs flow. Bell’s comedy style plays into these strengths, and …In a World features the sort of comedy you’d likely expect given the cast. Dry, droll wit mixed in with the occasional absurdist non sequitur is the ruler of the day. For the most part, the film succeeds in generating its laughs, and creating an easygoing atmosphere.
Once the plot gets going and the competition for voicing The Amazon Games (they’re not particularly interested in concealing the Hunger Games reference) begins to twist and turn, Bell does her best job incorporating the standard expectations of a film like this without rolling over into cliché for the sake of cliché. There are moments you would expect, the dramatic irony of a character masquerading as someone she is not until her mark catches up on what’s really going on, or the brushes at infidelity that serve to temporarily ruin a couple’s relationship, or the contentious ideological war between father and daughter. It’s all there, but the beats do grow organically out of the story as presented. Bell’s script gives us the beats we expect, but she’s not simply copying them out of some screenwriting 101 textbook. She approaches it with wit and intelligence.
The one aspect of the film that is slightly underdrawn is the two major male antagonists. While both Marino and Melamed are given plenty of silly situations and jokes to play out, and are generally quite good at what the script wants them to do, there isn’t much character beyond a sort of generic male chauvinism. Normally, this might not be the worst problem for a comedy to have, but it wreaks a minor bit of havoc with …In a World’s more feminist leanings. As a story about a woman trying to break through the glass ceiling of a male-dominated industry (the very concept of a woman reciting the “In a world” line is anathema to just about everyone Carol meets), it doesn’t help that the males oppressing her are the broad sketches that they seem to be. It’s a minor quibble, as many of the feminist aspects of the picture still work just fine, but could have been better with more fleshed out antagonists off which for her to play.
…In a World is a promising first directorial effort for Lake Bell, and while it may not be trying for anything overwhelmingly original or groundbreaking, sometimes you just need a fun, charming movie to enjoy from time to time, and this film is a more than worthy option in that case.