Model/actress Lake Bell recently posed for the cover of New York magazine wearing only body paint. But don’t hate her because she’s beautiful.
Because Bell is also a filmmaker with a wicked sense of humor. She makes her feature writing/directing debut with “In A World,” a screwball comedy set in contemporary Hollywood, specifically in the seething subculture of voiceover actors.
As if her duties behind the camera weren’t enough, she also stars in the film. Bell is something of an anomaly — a very attractive woman who seizes every opportunity to make herself look dorky and drab. Her self-effacing mien doesn’t seem to be a studied pose. From what I can gather she’s genuinely goofy, a modern-day Carol Lombard whose screen presence can dish high-octane satire while remaining absolutely lovable.
Here Bell plays Carol, a child of Hollywood who conducts voice classes. Among her clientele are a few actors and a lot of helium-voiced professional women whose careers have stalled because they sound like sexy infants.
Carol’s life is one big struggle. Being a vocal coach isn’t paying her way. What she really wants is to break into the exclusive world of movie trailers, long dominated by sonorous male voices. In this she takes after her father, professional voice Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed), a bearded, boorish egomaniac who considers himself the Olivier of voice actors and never misses the opportunity to remind Carol that she doesn’t have what it takes.
Sam wants his daughter to give up her dream. To that end he informs her that it’s time for some tough love: she must move out of the Sotto home to make way for his new girlfriend (who is a year younger than Carol).
“I’m going to support you by not supporting you,” he informs her.
Bell’s screenplay — it won an award at Sundance this year — has two points of entry. First, it’s a fairly conventional romantic comedy, with varied characters pairing up and breaking apart. Carol finds herself wooed both by a predatory fellow voiceover actor (Ken Marino) and by the sweetly dweeby recording engineer (Demetri Martin) in whose studio she does much of her work. Meanwhile Carol’s big sister (Michaela Watkins) is cheating — well, almost — on her supportive husband (Rob Corddry who actually gets to play a nice guy for a change).
This is balanced against a devastating depiction of Tinsel Town ambition, insecurity, back-stabbing and sexism. Voice-over artists, apparently, are every bit as predatory, territorial, and devious as any other actor. Even if, as one of them admits, he has a face made for radio.
"In A World" isn't earth-shaking, but it's quietly satisfying. In tone it resembles two of my favorite cable comedies of recent years, Laura Kightlinger’s “The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman” and “The Sarah Silverman Show.” Like the first, it’s merciless in picking apart the excesses of the movie industry; like the second, it manages to remain sweet despite being about self-centered individuals.
By the way, the film’s title, “In a World,” is a play on the movie trailer introduction popularized by Don LaFontaine, the late “king” of voiceover work. As in, “In a world unlike any you’ve ever experienced…”
“In a world where down is up…”
"In a world where right is wrong…"
You get the picture.