Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: In a World... (2014)

In a World... (2014)

Thank you, iTunes, for 99 cent movie rentals of the week, because otherwise, I wouldn't have discovered this little film. Actress and first-time feature filmmaker Lake Bell makes a number of rookie mistakes here, but still serves up a charming tale with smart, interesting characters and a nice stream of good laughs. I will warn you, though: it's the sort of movie that's really made for and by film geeks, with a lot of inside jokes that will likely fly over the heads of "casual" moviegoers. It's about the world of voiceover artists for movie trailers, opening with a touching tribute to the "Voice of God" Don LaFontaine, the man who popularized the phrase this film takes its title from and whose death touches off the plot.

Bell plays Carol Solomon, a Hollywood vocal/accent coach who longs to follow in the footsteps of her dad, famed voiceover artist Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed). After Sam kicks Carol out of the house so he can live with his younger girlfriend, Carol moves in with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins), a hotel concierge who lets Carol record foreign guests so that she can study their accents for work (a habit that's gotten her barred from the hotel), and Dani's husband Moe (Rob Corddry). Thanks to a mix-up giving her an opportunity to audition, Carol finds herself in the running for the job voicing the trailer for The Amazon Games, the first part in a young adult "quadrilogy" set in a post-apocalyptic world. This infuriates rising star voiceover artist Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), a friend of Sam Sotto's and his heir apparent in the business, who can't believe that some nobody (and a woman, at that!) might take "his" job, and so he and Sam plot to beat out Carol for the gig.

The main problem with this film is that it really has two main stories that don't feel bolted together all that well. While we're introduced to all the main characters fairly quickly, much of the first half of the film is driven by Dani and Moe's relationship drama, while it's only in the second half where the competition between Carol, Sam, and Gustav really comes into focus. Furthermore, the former plot is pretty much settled by the start of the third act, with Dani and Moe back together after their crisis. It feels very much like a B-plot that should've been in the background for much of the movie informing the events of the main story, instead of being front-loaded and then being largely dropped near the end. It's a problem that a lot of former TV directors fall into on their first feature film outing (Bell had previously directed short films and episodes of the Adult Swim medical drama spoof Childrens Hospital), making a film that feels like two or three episodes of a TV show spliced together and then called a movie.

Still, if this were a TV show, I'd have had no problem sitting down to watch it, because it is truly quite funny. It's not a very goofy film, feeling (again) more like a sitcom than a broad mainstream comedy, with most of the humor being driven by the characters' relationships and inside references to the film industry. Bell is great here, proving that she's a vastly underrated comedic actress while also being able to sell the idea that her character deserves a shot at doing voiceover work on a movie trailer. If she'd sounded flaccid or otherwise boring in those trailers, the central conceit of this film would've fallen apart, but her voice on a movie trailer would certainly make me want to see it. The rest of the film is just as much her show, helped along by a slew of talented character actors, many of whom are among her collaborators and co-stars on Childrens Hospital. Watching all of these people made for a very fun time, with not one of them feeling out of place here. They all have something to do, and what they do is be very funny.

Score: 3 out of 5

A comedy about trailer voiceover artists isn't gonna be the broadest film out there, and to its detriment it relies a bit too much on inside jokes and has a structure more suited to a half-hour sitcom than a feature film. But Lake Bell proves herself to be an unpolished gem of a filmmaker, with her and the solid cast she put together making this a good, offbeat, funny movie.

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