If we’re going to invent new sub-genres for Edgar Wright movies, a la the rom-zom-com (Shaun of the Dead), we need one for Lake Bell’s directorial debut, which is a … well … it’s a fem-fam-film-rom-geek-com? That needs some work. (Maybe Bell, a sharp and nuanced writer, can come up with something clever.) In a World… is a movie built for film geeks, trailer junkies and, well, anyone who’s ever noticed Hollywood’s sexist side. Which I like to think is, by now, all of us.
Carol Solomon (Bell) is a vocal coach and occasional voice actress who’s got a touch of arrested development. To some degree she’s following in her dad’s footsteps: Sam Soto (Fred Melamed) is a voice-over legend, though not on the level of the recently departed Don LaFontaine (the real voice in all those trailers that begin, “IN A WORLD …”). Sam is in a bit of a pissing contest with Gustav Warner (an appealingly skeevy Ken Marino) as to who will carry on LaFontaine’s legend. He’s paternalistically, distantly, vaguely supportive of Carol — whose career, at the movie’s start, consists of teaching Eva Longoria to speak in a Cockney accent — but opts to show his support by kicking her out when his (much younger) girlfriend moves in.
Carol lands with her sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins), a slightly uptight concierge with a warm, funny husband, Moe (Rob Corddry). Carol also lands a gig doing the voice-over for a children’s romantic comedy. This catches the eye (or ear) of a studio executive who bumps Carol up the ranks and into consideration — alongside Gustav and her father — for the most coveted trailer job in town: the voice of The Amazon Games (the trailer for this is exactly as great and Mad Max-y as it should be).
Wrapped into this family battle slash Hollywood satire slash coming-of-belated-age story are one-night stands, adultery, petty jealousies, goofy vocal warm-ups, sauna scenes and small but delicious parts for Tig Notaro and Geena Davis. Demetri Martin, who will always look like a miniature Jason Schwartzman for the first two seconds you look at him, is such a perfect awkward love interest for Carol that it seems impossible he hasn’t played this role in a dozen other films.
But In a World… belongs to Bell, from the careful way she imbues each of her ensemble characters with personality traits (not just quirks) and habits, weaknesses and strengths, to the way she moves through the film, confidence and uncertainty in an endless (and endlessly funny) dance. On the surface, In a World… is a weird little family comedy with a tendency toward the cheerily absurd, but Bell isn’t shy about asking questions or making statements, whether about the painfully prevalent woman-as-squeaky-toy voice (or as the film puts it, “sexy baby” voice) or the ridiculousness of the voice-over industry’s culture-supported sexism. In a World… is the perfect antidote to The World’s End, a movie that was moderately funny and laddishly charming but was working familiar (if neatly mashed-up) territory. Bell, going behind the scenes and into the sound booth, puts a neat spin on the familiar — who hasn’t seen movie trailers? — turning her own fascination with a taken-for-granted corner of the industry into a smart, thoughtful first feature.
IN A WORLD...: Written and directed by Lake Bell. Cinematography, Seamus Tierney. Editing, Tom McArdle. Music, Ryan Miller. Starring Lake Bell, Rob Corddry, Ken Marino, Fred Melamed, Michaela Watkins, Demetri Martin and Alexandra Holden. Roadside Attractions, 2013. R. 93 minutes. Four Stars.