Carol Solomon (Lake Bell) is a Los Angeles-based vocal coach with aspirations to become a professional voice-over artist. When she unexpectedly books a gig for a children’s movie trailer, she finds herself running directly against the man with whom she has just shared a one-night stand (Ken Marino) and her own hyper-competitive father (Fred Melamed).
Pretty much anybody who watched Hollywood movie trailers in the 20th century is well familiar with the voice of the late Don LaFontaine, even if they have never actually heard his name. His gravelly narration of trailers and advertisements, often with the widely used and mocked phrase “In a world…”, came to define an entire style of motion picture marketing. Writer, director and star Lake Bell has zeroed in on an industry ripe for a fictional treatment with In a World…, managing to construct a romantic comedy, lightly-handled industry satire, and a well-pointed feminist statement all in the one 90-minute movie. That’s an achievement well worth applauding.
Bell is a tremendous performer whose work has, while keeping her in near-constant employment, never quite propelled her into super-stardom. In a World… is further proof of her talent, now extending off the screen as well to reveal a solid director and a canny screenwriter on top of her acting abilities. In her hands Carol is a charming and immediately likeable protagonist. It is a pleasure to spend 90 minutes in her company.
In casting In a World.. it seems Bell simply ran through her personal contacts looking for talented people to collaborate with. There is a veritable who’s-who of American comedy talent involved, including Demetri Martin, Rob Cordry, Ken Marino, Nick Offerman and Tig Notaro. As Carol’s sister Dani, Michaela Watkins is enormously funny. She effectively provides the final with a secondary protagonist with her own romantic arc to follow.
Carol’s desired career as a voiceover artist points to a weird phenomenon in Hollywood: women don’t generally narrate things. While watching the film I found myself trying to think of a single movie trailer with female narration. I came up with Dominic Sena’s Gone in 60 Seconds remake. That’s honestly it.
With a bright, engaging protagonist and a nice premise and setting, Bell then takes things up one final notch by setting up a range of romantic comedy conventions and then subverting them. You can see the stereotypes running a mile off. Two voiceover artists sleep together while unknowing applying for the same job. A father who has hooked up with an irritating new wife 30 years his junior. A protagonist wanting nothing more than to achieve their goal. The beauty of In a World… is that as often as Bell sets up one of these cliches, she immediately knocks it down. It’s only surprising in small, warm ways, but each time a stereotype is subverted it makes the film feel a little brighter and a little more fresh. Is it a new classic of film comedy? Probably not, but it’s absolutely one of the really good ones.