Lake Bell emerges as a great comedic voice with In a World…, a funny and touching tale in the strange world of voiceovers. More so than any other comedy I’ve seen this year, this one’s confident in its quirky concept and treats it with a fierce commitment to its normalcy; in reality, though, voiceover work doesn’t make someone the biggest person in the industry. Yet Bell sells that idea entirely through elaborately detailed characters that all get their own payoffs. These are all mostly likable characters with big hearts, and even bigger voices, but Bell’s might be the strongest. She has a way of making others around her seem ignorant or occasionally dumbed down, but it’s never degrading or an easy joke. In fact, she makes her film intelligent and wonderfully paced, with ideas flowing from one scene to the next and no subplot being treated as frivolous. She addresses the lack of femininity in her work and how it’s ultimately a thankless craft, bringing light to the real people in this world. She makes her world shine.
The film centers on Carol (Lake Bell), an aspiring voiceover artist whose father, Sam (Fred Melamed), is one of the most renowned men in the business. He doesn’t believe his daughter has what it takes to make it in a business dominated by men, partly why he decides to back Gustav (Ken Marino) when the Holy Grail of Voiceover emerges: the classic “In a world…” monologue that dominates epic cinema. With everyone in a fervor, and Carol being kicked out of her house, she works with Louis (Demetri Martin), a guy who certainly has a crush on her but doesn’t know how to address that. Carol moves in with her sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her husband, Moe (Rob Corddry), who begin to fall apart after Dani has a minor fling with an Irishman. Carol hopes to hit those notes she needs to be a successful artist, but she’s up against the odds of not only competition, but sexism.
If any of these elements sound clichéd, it’s because they are…in another film. What Bell does so masterfully here is create scenes that feel as if they’ll play in a traditional manner, but give us different outcomes that are even more rewarding. The presumed breakup of Dani and Moe has many effective scenes, but one of the film’s best involves one where Moe lets an attractive British neighbor shower in his bathroom because her water’s not working. We’ve seen this before, where the wife will come in, find out, and they’ll fight; instead, Carol walks in, acts nonchalant about it, and Dani never finds out. The film’s comedic timing is strong, and the dramatic scenes are well-balanced, proving that a film can follow up a hilarious scene with some heartfelt characterizations. This is a film of payoffs and emotional care. In a World… is one of the best comedies I’ve seen this year, for it’s an example of a film having many imperfections, all making the film more endearing.
Grade: ★★★★ (out of 5)