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Friday, August 30, 2013

In a World

In a world... where there aren't enough realistic leading roles for women, a criminally under-utilized actress will take matters into her own hands, writing, directing, and starring in a movie that features her many talents. While she may make the sort of mistakes you'd expect from any first-time filmmaker, the result will leave you with a warm feeling and a desire for more.

You get the idea. Lake Bell is the woman in question, an actress who hasn't managed to make the A-list despite being funny, talented, and very good-looking. (Ok, maybe we don't need to feel too bad for her, but still.) I didn't really know what Bell could do until I caught a few episodes of Adult Swim's Children's Hospital. Here, Bell plays Carol Solomon, a voice-actor and vocal coach who longs to follow in her father's footsteps and make it in the highly-competitive (and pretty much exclusively male) world of narrating movie trailers. Her father (Fred Melamed) a near-legendary voice-over artist nearing the end of his career, does not support his daughter's dream and goes so far as to groom a male heir to his throne, Gustav Warner (Ken Marino).

Carol rises up the ranks of the insular voice-over world with the help of Louis (Demetri Martin), a sound-man with a puppy-dog crush on her, and a rag-tag group of technicians including characters played by Nick Offerman and Tig Notaro. Carol is also forced to deal with a crisis in her sister's marriage and nasty rumors about how she's managed to rise in the ranks of her profession.

For such a short movie (93 minutes) there is a lot going on, and frankly there is a bit of a slapdash, scattershot feel to In a World. Carol's struggles in the voice-over world happen mostly off-screen, only referenced by allusion, while we get a lot about Michaela Watkins's Dani and Rob Corddry's Moe. Watkins and Corddry are both impressive in the parts, but when combined with the barely sketched-out love story between Carol and Louis there's just too much in too short a time frame. A lot of In a World's stars are obviously Bell's real-life friends, and it must be tempting when you're making your first comedy to try and get as many recognizable and funny people in it as you can, but sometimes it really is true that less is more. Offerman and Notaro are particularly wasting their time here. Notaro has one funny line and Offerman is basically just part of the scenery. That's a shame, but perhaps cutting them altogether would have tightened up the focus and allowed more room for the interesting, offbeat story to be told.

All in all, In a World feels a little under-cooked. A lot of the jokes feel like placeholders that got left in because better jokes weren't written in time. (The epic movie our main characters vie to narrate is a Hunger Games take-off named The Amazon Games. Seriously.) Bell is an appealing presence and an especially gifted physical comedian, but her screenwriting needs to improve if she wants to keep writing movies for herself. Hopefully she'll be more confident with her next one, and trust the audience a little more. (There's a scene with a tape recorder that is very clumsily shot because Bell is clearly afraid the audience won't notice the tape recorder's presence.)

Still, In a World is a very admirable effort. The central idea is a good one, and it was fun seeing Bell explore a community that's never been seen on-camera before. I'll be looking forward to her next effort.

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