In a World

Lake Bell writes, directs and stars in this mature and charming rom-com set in the male-dominated world of the voice over artist

In a World is that increasing rarity in today’s cinematic landscape. There are no guns, no monsters and no spaceships. It’s not a sequel, a remake or a computer-animated cartoon. And Adam Sandler is nowhere to be seen.

But what Lake Bell’s debut feature does have is a compelling premise, a witty script, an appealing cast, clever direction and characters you actually give a damn about.

Bell writes, directs and stars as Carol Solomon, a happy-go-lucky 31-year-old vocal coach who dreams of making it as a voiceover artist. Problem is, the realm of sonorous, doom-laden trailer narration is not only a male-dominated field, but also one ruled over by her father, the reigning voiceover king Sam Soto (Fred Melamed). ‘The industry does not crave a female sound,’ Sam tells his daughter.

But when Carol beats both her dad and his sleazy protégé, Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), to a lucrative blockbuster ‘quadrilogy’ job, the men’s vengeful hubris is unleashed to hilarious and insightful effect.

The Hollywood voiceover business may not seem like the most thrilling arena in which to set a movie, but there’s more than enough spark and intrigue to sustain Bell’s conceit, which is loosely inspired by the power struggle to inherit the mantle of the real-life so-called 'Voice of God' Don LaFontaine – who popularised In a World’s titular cliché – following his death in 2008. And unlike many films set within the film industry, it’s not an exercise in self-reference.

The cast do a top job. On paper, Carol is the kind of typical indie-flick kook who should be incredibly annoying. She lives rent-free with her father, wears dungarees and enjoys singing 1980s hits at karaoke bars. But Bell – until now mainly known for playing 'best friend' roles in a string of rom-coms – succeeds in making Carol not just tolerable, but actually highly likeable.
Excellent, too, is Melamed as Sam, a corpulent, arrogant man-child who would rather cavort with his much younger girlfriend or loll about in the sauna than spend time with his family. He has some great lines, such as when he tells Carol, ‘I’m going to support you by not supporting you', before kicking her out of what he describes as his ‘crash pad’.

Amidst the laughs, In a World offers commentary on institutionalised sexism, familial dysfunction, professional rivalry and mid-life crises. It’s a message movie, for sure, yet it’s empowering without being overbearing, eccentric without being aloof, sentimental without being cynical. It’s the kind of film Woody Allen might have made had he been born a woman in the late 1970s, or possibly Richard Curtis if he was from New York City.

The humour is frank, and Bell doesn’t soften how messy real people’s sex lives can be. This blunt approach works. Despite having secondary roles, Michaela Watkins and Rob Corddry, as Carol’s beleaguered sister and brother-in-law Dani and Moe, connect with the audience in their portrayal of a married couple in meltdown. In particular, it’s nice to see Corddry play a character who does more than grin, shout and swear.

Stand-up comedian Demetri Martin is also good as Carol’s hapless would-be suitor Louis, while there are game cameos from Eva Longoria, Jeff Garlin and Geena Davis.

But ultimately In a World is Bell’s movie, and she certainly proves herself a talent to watch. At a time when many Hollywood films are dreadful, dispiriting rubbish, one woman has beaten the odds. This feminist rom-com manages to be insightful, meaningful and utterly charming.

In a World is showing at Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast until September 26.