Overall Rating: A-
In a world ruled by a small number of elites, where a traditional and safe approach is justified by consistency and longevity, Carol Solomon is seeking to break down some walls. Carol is played by writer and director Lake Bell in her off screen debut. In a World is an effective, well written comedy that isn’t so much an examination of the voiceover industry as it is a fun new twist on the same old story about a proud little girl making it in a man’s world.
Lake Bell’s aura is unique, and the character that she wrote for herself plays to her own strengths. She is a very attractive woman, but in a one of a kind way, with a rough face and voice that give off a sense of power and gusto that let’s her appear perfectly in place against a testosterone high backdrop. She’s girly, sure, with her private outbursts of dance and fashion crises, and that is why it works. Carol is imperfect. She is impulsive at times, resentful, idealistic and full of self-pity. On the up side, she is ambitious, and her fight to climb to achieve these ambitions is where we follow her.
In a World opens Bell’s filmmaking career triumphantly. It’s humor is unquestionable, nailing all of the trite elements of feel good comedy and somehow coming across as fresh. Bell steps up to the microphone to make a decidedly feminist story bearable and wildly entertaining. She is funny and fresh, a voice that independent film really needs right now. Her writing speaks to millennials directly, but as well as being relatable to both children and older adults. It opens in newsreel fashion, evoking thoughts of a new Citizen Kane. As in Kane, the topic of the opening is the death of an American legend, this time the factual Don LaFontaine whose voice is recognizable to everyone and anyone. LaFontaine was the king of the voiceover, recording thousands of commercials and the like throughout his career. The fictional characters of the film speak about their admiration for “The Don,” and often make reference to the fact that he is the only one who could utter what the movie refers to as “those three little words.” Don LaFontaine is the man who made famous the movie trailer cliche, “In a world…,” and now Bell’s film speaks about the modern question: What if it was going to be brought back, who would be the new voice of “In a world…”?
After the legendary newsreel sequence in Citizen Kane, a news reporter goes on a quest to find, in a sense, the greatest newspaper man of them all. In In a World, the feature is again followed by an industry seeking to define the legacy of one of its own. Carol, along with her father and voice over star Sam Soto, and the younger hot shot Gustav Warner, are at different stages in their careers in the voice industry. Carol would love to join the field she grew up watching her father dominate, but for now is held to reading test recordings and teaching voice lessons as freelance. Sam is a stud in Hollywood. He has been a prominent figure in voiceovers for decades, just published an autobiography, and is receiving a life achievement award. Gustav is making it early in his promising career with Sam’s support, arrogantly stating “you should recognize my voice, most of the country does.”
The triumvirate has been set, and the audience is prepared to see these three to make battle. The complex series of interrelationships within the small and overbearing industry and culture of fierce competition sets the table for Bell’s humor. It seems like a very well knit variety show, exploiting gratifying moments of outlandish comedy, such as Carol and Gustav’s uncomfortably hilarious night together.
Ultimately, In a World is a fun movie. That is the best word for it. I had fun seeing this movie. Bell’s mild social commentary is so small and with so little potency that it takes nothing away from the experience. It could very easily have gotten out of hand, and I was afraid on two different occasions that the ending would be self-indulgent and thin, but both times I was relieved to see the action drift elsewhere as the film concluded the only great way it probably could have. Whether in a cocktail dress or overalls, Carol is a fun character, someone that most people would like to spend time with singing karaoke, playing at an arcade or maybe just poking fun at high voiced girls that sound “like if a Beanie-Baby could talk.”