A movie about voice acting naturally allows for a lot of screwball fun. Watching people repeating nonsense sounds as they wiggle their tongue and stretch their jaw is enough to get an audience laughing pretty quickly. That could easily get tedious, but In a World … has much more to offer.
The film won best screenplay at Sundance this year and is the directorial debut of Lake Bell, who wrote it and stars in the lead role, Carol Solomon, an underachieving vocal coach. Solomon lives in the shadow her legendary voice actor father (Fred Melamed), the king of movie trailers. She would like a career of her own, to perhaps become “the voice of a generation,” but doing so requires overcoming a lot of big egos and no small amount of misogyny. (It’s not all bad working as a vocal coach. She gets paid to tell Eva Longoria to literally put a cork in it.)
The goofiness of the characters feels sincere, not overdone or charged with sight gags and slapstick beyond the naturally ridiculous training and warm ups the actors go through before auditions. The main cast remains real and likable, including Solomon’s love interest Louis, played by Demitri Martin as grown up version of every Michael Cera character ever. They are both late-bloomer awkward, and watching them stumble through flirting is as funny as it is cringe-worthy.
In a World … may have a lot of levity and charm, but it is no mere Rom-Com. It makes a pointed feminist statement about show business, offering genuine insight into a realm of it that is less visible but no less cutthroat and a pervasive misogyny in the industry as whole. While trying to kick down these doors, Solomon is navigating familial drama and coming of age as a person, not just as an actress. In a World … is definitely not a genre flick, and it also doesn’t wrap up too neatly; the morally ambiguous end leaves one pondering.
The limited number of female filmmakers working today is slowly growing, and clearly not for lack of capability. (In Seattle, organizations like Reel Grrls are actively trying to even the demographics.) Doing triple duty as writer, director and actor, Lake Bell takes on a lot for herself and crams a lot into one film, but she does it deftly. This real life success makes as strong a statement as anything she wrote into the film. Solomon is seeking to establish her own voice, and through her, Bell just did.
In a World… is playing at Sundance Cinemas Seattle.