[This is a re-post of my review from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. In a World...opens today in limited release.]
I usually like movies that have some sense of structure and pacing. If they don’t have these qualities, then I like these films to be truly daring and outside-the-box. Lake Bell‘s In a World… is a rambling mess of a nice little comedy with too many characters, and has almost no sense of pacing or flow. But somehow, it’s still a charming flick. Bell gives a fun lead performance, and she surrounds herself with a likable cast. Even the subtext is cutesy. In a World… should be a movie that I found a slog, but somehow, Bell’s film won me over despite its glaring flaws.
Carol (Bell) is a voice coach in Hollywood who aspires to be the voice over trailers like the great Don Lafontaine who coined the famous trailer phrase, “In a world…” Her hopes are repeatedly crushed by her self-centered father Sam (Ken Melamed), who is a veteran of the voiceover business and is working as a kind of mentor to rising voice over star, Gustav (Ken Marino). Carol gets kicked out of her home by Sam so his girlfriend Jamie (Alexandra Holden) can move in, and is forced to move in with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her boyfriend Moe (Rob Corddry). When Carol begins closing in on the voiceover gig for the upcoming trailer for the epic The Amazon Games, she finds herself competing with her father and Gustav. There also subplots involving Carol’s co-worker Louis (Demetri Martin) having a crush on her, and relationship problems between Dani and Moe.
The entire plot feels scrambled together seemingly without a thought to construction. There are simply too many plotlines without any sense of organization. Bell seems like she’s running around spinning plates trying to keep each plotline going even though her competition with her father and Gustav is the story with the most momentum. But throughout the picture, Bell is constantly throwing in new complications that provide distractions rather than depth. The only thing that seems to unite the plotlines other than Carol is the theme that people need to listen to each other and make their voices heard (because, you know, voiceover work).
Despite the mess of plotlines, Bell makes it work because even though the scenes don’t link together very well, the interactions within the scenes are always enjoyable. Like other actresses-turned-screenwriters, Bell finds that the best way to get a great role is to write it herself even though at times it seems like Carol is switching between the lead and a supporting player. Bell has terrific chemistry with her co-stars, especially Martin, which is a shame since their relationship doesn’t start to come together until fairly late into the movie.
Filmmakers should go by their own rules and see how the result plays out. No movie will ever work for everyone, and as an audience we can’t turn our preferences into dogma. We can’t reject a movie out of hand simply because it doesn’t conform to our belief of how movies are supposed to work. There may not be much depth or order to Bell’s picture, but In a World… keeps us interested with its oddball appeal.