Lake Bell, the lead actress, writer and director of In A World… has done her due diligence in Hollywood, with supporting roles in awful romantic comedies like What Happens in Vegas, It’s Complicated and No Strings Attached. Like many other lesser-known comedic actresses, she’s been confined to the corner of the screen in many of her projects, playing second fiddle to bigger stars. And so, it’s refreshing to see Bell finally striking out with a film that’s both astute and audacious, as well as entirely her own.
For Bell, it must have been a terrifying and exhilarating challenge, crafting a starring vehicle for herself that could play to all her strengths while also standing on its own two feet as a feature film. That In A World… succeeds both as a vibrant introduction to Bell’s comedic voice and as one of the best independent comedies in recent years is a testament to her flooring virtuosity.
The film centers on Carol Solomon (Bell), a vocal coach and budding voiceover artist who wants to leave her mark in a field once dominated by her massively successful father, voiceover legend Sam Soto (Fred Melamed). When the producers of an upcoming YA property, called The Amazon Games, announce that they’re planning to reintroduce the famed “In a world…” trailer gimmick, Carol finds herself in a heated competition for the role, facing down both silver-tongued voice artist Gustav Warner (Ken Marino, at his fast-talking best) and her self-obsessed father.
Played by Bell with wonderful range, Carol is a high-strung, energetic and, best of all, incredibly likable protagonist. Bell perfectly evokes the uncertainties of a woman on the precipice of finding herself, but she never wallows in Carol’s woes or self-doubt. Part of what makes In A World… so fresh and interesting is that Bell never attempts to dress Carol up with over-the-top quirks. In other words, she never falls into the Zooey Deschanel trap of overbearing peculiarities. In fact, despite a hilarious recurring gag that makes use of Bell’s terrific range of accents, she’s the film’s rock, quietly a little less madcap than the other characters, and that makes her a fascinating entrance point into the film’s laughably cutthroat voice-acting industry.
All of the supporting cast is in fine form. Melamed bites into his hammy, overbearing character with gusto but avoids going over the edge into full-blown villainy. His selfishness, induced throughout a career of unbridled machismo, has reached peak levels as the film opens, with Soto attempting to pump up his self-confidence in order to delay acceptance of his increasingly obvious mortality. Through Melamed’s terrific performance, we can plainly see his anger and frustration and, to some degree, sympathize with him, even as we shake our heads at his obnoxious actions. After all, Carol is no less flawed. The pair talk past each other, each utterly convinced of their own righteousness, neither learning anything despite all their heated discussions.
Meanwhile, Michaela Watkins and Rob Corddry impress as Carol’s sister and brother-in-law, both embroiled in a subplot that’s far more relevant and engrossing than initial appearances may suggest. Their performances elicit more than a handful of laughs, but it’s the heartfelt emotion of their story, and what it says about the power of words, that really sticks.
Finally, as the hapless sound booth operator who’s fallen for Carol, Demetri Martin earns his laughs with a winning, charismatic performance. Again, wordplay is front and center in his relationship with Carol, as Martin’s character throws every style of seduction her way in a desperate attempt to get her out of her own head. One burst of physical expression from the actor is possibly the film’s most gut-busting moment.
What In A World… accomplishes as a whole is remarkable. It has a lot on its mind about masculinity, feminism and what those concepts actually suggest about modern society, but it never slides into preachiness or plodding societal observation. Bell’s delicate touch allows the movie to be both light without being flighty and intelligent without being snide.
Finely acted, smart and very funny, In A World… is, plainly stated, an excellent film. As a feature-length introduction to Bell’s comedic talents, it’s highly promising, and as a reflection on the power of voice and thoroughness of Hollywood’s gender divide, it provides extremely tasty food for thought.
The Blu-Ray for In A World… features an adequate, not extraordinary, 1080p transfer. Though scenes don’t pop with bright colors, nothing in the presentation detracts from the film. For a movie as clearly about voice as In A World…, what’s far more essential is a solid audio track, and Sony’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track really delivers. The range of sounds in In A World… is substantially more than in most low-budget productions, from the many accents put on by various characters to background sounds that show up most prominently in the many scenes set at a recording studio, but the track elegantly captures the depths and heights of every line delivery.
As for special features, the Blu-Ray for In A World… includes:
- Commentary with Lake Bell
- Alternate Opening Sequence
- Deleted Scenes
- In A World… Promo Trailers
- Gag Reel
The commentary is clearly the stand-out among the extras on the Blu-Ray. Bell is a smooth, eloquent speaker, and she guides listeners through the film with a focus on detail, explaining many of the considerations in creating In A World…, from where her ideas for the film came from to music in the film to scenes intended to show character development, and much more. Bell was the star, director and writer of In A World…, and the magnitude of her work on the film comes across in the commentary.
As for the rest, it’s not a huge selection, but fans of the film will be interested in the alternate opening sequence and the deleted scenes. The opening is solid, though I prefer the one Bell went with, featuring lots of Don LaFontaine with Melamed’s Sam Soto spliced in. As for the deleted scenes, some extended parodies of TV shows (a version of The Bachelor with sexy baby voices, for one) are hard to sit through, but extra scenes featuring Corddry and Watkins’ characters are worth checking out. The deleted scenes run about fifteen minutes in total.
The promo trailers flesh out a little more about In A World…‘s set-up (though if you really want insight into the film, Bell’s commentary is the way to go) and utilize many of its characters. They’re light, funny and short. Predictably, Corddry is the heavy hitter in the film’s gag reel, and some of his screw-ups are laugh-out-loud funny. At around four minutes, the gag reel is amusing but also doesn’t overstay its welcome.
In A World… is an involving, often hilarious watch, complete with great performances and a razor-sharp script. Though the Blu-Ray package on the whole is adequate, I’d still certainly recommend picking up a copy.
Given her whip-smart, sure-footed directorial debut, I'm looking forward to living in a world that will soon be familiar with Lake Bell's unmistakable talent.