Writer/director/star Lake Bell plays Carol Solomon, a struggling voiceover artist trying to break through the very low glass ceiling that prevents women from getting voiceover jobs in Hollywood for anything other than tampon commercials. In the movie – and possibly in real life, we can suspect – movie trailer work is the sign of having “made it” within the voiceover artist’s world. Carol, who moonlights as a dialect coach thanks to her incredible ear for accents, wants so badly to be the new voice of movie trailers, filling the void left by the legendary Don LaFontaine (and actual legend in the industry) after his death.
There are many great movies about making movies, but rarely do they focus on the overlooked and unrecognized artists whose work audiences see but rarely acknowledge. Bell chooses to focus on the world of the voiceover actor much in the same way Christopher Guest might focus on a small town theatre troupe or the owners of the canines competing in dog shows. Bell’s aim is not to mock or belittle these individuals who are vital to the industry, but to use their (fictional) plight as a way to address much bigger issues.
Carol, like Bell, has an amazing talent for accents and dialects, bending and twisting her voice like an expert contortionist. There is no question she is gifted, yet the “boys’ club” that is Hollywood voiceover work is reserved for people like Carol’s father, Sam Soto (Fred Melamad), and Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), a newbie whose vast wealthy gives him connections Carol can only dream about. But is Bell really complaining about the roles offered to females in voiceover work or about women’s opportunities in Hollywood in general? How many famous female directors can the average person name? Female screenwriters? The number of female studio executives is rising, but men still outnumber them by a vast margin. In fact, Bell most likely faced a great number of hurdles trying to get produced an original screenplay that she wanted to direct herself.
The movie does not dwell on Carol’s struggles, it merely presents the problem and the day-to-day difficulty she faces. Aiding her in any way he can is Louis (Demetri Martin), the sound engineer at the studio where Carol gives private lessons to actors like Eva Longoria. Carol even gets to do some of her own stuff sometimes. When Louis finds out that a studio wants to bring back LaFontaine’s famous “In a world...” line for a new epic blockbuster, Louis vows to do everything he can to help Carol book the gig. With the support of Louis and a few of the other Little Rascals that wonder in and out of the studio, Carol gets a fighting chance at seeing her dream come true.
Bell never lets the film sag under the weight of the serious issue it is addressing, instead opting for silly almost slapstick comedy showcasing Bell’s talents as well as the comedic skills of her entire cast. Bell has a wonderful everywoman look that allows her to blend into the background of a scene until it’s necessary she takes center stage. Her sense of comedic timing is perfect, allowing awkward moments to hang in the air just long enough to milk every last humorous note. As a director, Bell is confident and assured in the tone she wants the film to carry, taking her time to let every scene play out.
If there is one area Bell will need to improve upon before her next project (which will hopefully be soon), it will be learning to better edit herself as a writer. In a World is burdened with an overabundance of plot, including an unnecessary story about the strained marriage between her sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins), and brother-in-law, Moe (Rob Corddry). The movie is funny beginning to end, but there is so much extraneous storytelling that it distracts from an otherwise enjoyable experience.
In a World in not only a great feature film debut by a very talented filmmaker, it is a reminder that movies can have social messages without beating the audience over the head for an hour and a half.