‘In A World’: A strong new comic voice

August 6, 2013

in a world

“In A World” announces the arrival of a new triple-threat talent: Lake Bell, already established as an actress. She wrote and directed (and produced) this new film, which was a delight at Sundance and arrives in the dog days of summer like a cool breeze.

Bell plays Carol, who’s barely getting by as a vocal coach working with actors on their accents (there’s a wonderful sequence with her trying to teach a Cockney accent to Eva Longoria, who is very funny, and a good sport to boot). Her father, Sam (Fred Melamed), is a legend in the world of voice-over artists; a combination of a huge baby and a giant egotist, he’s just retired and written a memoir, as well as taken up with a blonde who is Carol’s age.

He’s also extremely discouraging of Carol’s real ambition: to follow in his footsteps. Aside from taking it as a threat to his ego, he’s also a passive-aggressive sexist, who keeps telling her that the industry simply isn’t interested in women doing voice-over. But she’s determined, encouraged by her producer pal, Louis (Demetri Martin), who obviously has a thing for her – though Carol hasn’t noticed.

But the game changes when Carol starts booking work thanks to Louis – and then becomes a real player in the contest to revive the most famous voice-over advertising phrase of all time: “In a world…”, made famous by the late Don LaFontaine. A new film wants to use the phrase and is looking for just the right voice. It’s a juicy chance, coveted by the current voice-over king, Gustav (Ken Marino), and even by Sam, who is willing to come out of retirement to be the new “In a world” guy.

The plotting isn’t particularly complex, though it is elaborate, including a subplot about Carol’s sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins), a concierge who is a bit tired of her stay-at-home IT-guy husband (Rob Corddry). Dani finds herself involved with a celebrity guest at her hotel, even as Carol begins to realize that Louis is more than a good friend.

But “In A World” crackles with solid comic lines and performances, which bring the film to life even when the plot itself seems momentarily stuck. Instead of assembling a farce, Bell understands how to build character and inject humor through their interactions. They may not be doing much, in terms of the story, but they’re still advancing the film, thanks to their own revelations.

Bell has a great cast, which includes the oleaginous Melamed and the deceptively perky Alexandra Holden as his not-so-dumb new wife. Marino seems to have a lock on this kind of puffed-up fool, while Martin stretches the character of Louis beyond the normal dweeb boundaries. Watkins and Corddry have exquisite timing, and there are injections of tart humor by Nick Offerman and Tig Notaro as two of Carol’s recording-studio pals.

“In A World” snaps and bubbles with fizzy humor. It’s a bright and witty romantic comedy – and we all know how rare those are.

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