In a world in which Don LaFontaine, the universally acknowledged voice-over master, is no longer around to intone those three famous words at the beginning of movie trailers, the profession he ruled for so long in person and still does in memory receives satirical treatment in Lake Bell’s comedy, which she wrote, directed and stars in as Carol Solomon, a girl trying to break into the male-dominated business. “In a World…” is a good deal smarter than most big-budget romantic comedies, but its shrillness makes it less pleasurable than it should be.
Carol is the daughter of one of the stars of the business, honey-voiced baritone Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), who’s about to receive the profession’s lifetime achievement award. But she’s struggling to find any gigs, and to make her situation worse, Sam, with whom she’s lived for years, informs her that she’ll have to move out to make room for his young girlfriend Jamie (Alexandra Holden). With nowhere else to go, she decamps to the apartment of her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins), a hotel concierge, and her boyfriend Moe (Rob Corddry), a film editor working at home.
Meanwhile Louis (Demetri Martin), the chief engineer at the studio where she records the few jobs she gets, is obviously smitten with her, and encourages her to audition for the voice-over job on the trailer for “Amazon Games,” a high-concept adventure flick predicted to be the next franchise smash. The script will begin with LaFontaine’s famous phrase, and since her dad has excused himself from the competition, the odds-on favorite to get the gig is his arrogant protégé Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), with whom—coincidentally—she’s just spent a night after a party at his pad. When Sam hears that his daughter is a serious contender for the spot, he jumps back into the running himself, unwilling to see her grab such a plum assignment.
It wouldn’t be fair to go much further, or to reveal the surprise cameo that accompanies the revelation of the victor. But it certainly doesn’t spoil things to say that in most other respects—romantic and familial—Bell’s script follows a fairly predictable upbeat trajectory. That’s true even in a curious subplot involving Dani’s almost dalliance with a smooth-talking Irish guest (Jason O’Mara) whose accent intrigues Carol, which leads Moe to take a hike. Nor is it a secret that there are briefer turns by other recognizable folk like Eva Longoria, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro and Geena Davis, with Longoria’s especially funny.
But ultimately “In a World…” is undone by Bell in her threefold capacity. As writer she overstuffs the screenplay, mixing in rather too many subplots for comfort; perhaps too much is better than too little, but the problem remains, especially since it means that as director Bell has to rush things along at times. And that affects her performance. She’s attractive, in a rather unconventional way, and is clearly up to progressing from the second-string work she’s done in big romantic comedies to this point. But too often she comes across as strident and pushy here, and as a result is a tad irritating. It’s a pleasure, though, to watch Melamed and Martin at work; both bring shadings to what might have been stock characters (something Marino doesn’t manage). Corddry is nicely laid-back—not an adjective one might think of regarding him—and Watkins is fine, and technically the picture belies its modest budget, with Seamus Tierney’s cinematography, Megan Fenton’s production design, Ashley Fenton’s art direction and Tom McArdle’s editing all quite good.
“In a World…” has so many things going for it—not least the fascinating, out-of-the-way corner of show business it’s set in—that it’s a pity that as a whole it comes up short. It should serve, however, as a first-rate calling card for Bell in the future.