Write what you know. Accomplished screenwriters will undoubtedly pass along the advice and it’s something that writer/director/star of In a World… took to heart. Taking her experiences working as a voice actor, Lake Bell scripts In a World … with considerable wit and insight, filling every nook and cranny of her script with precise details that could have only come from personal experience. The personal touch to Bell’s work makes her sociological insights seem even more impactful – there’s an illuminating and genuine quality to how she bridges concerns of micro and macro social issues.
Featuring an opening with the late Don Lafontaine, In a World… establishes its namesake and the world in which its various characters operate in. Lafontaine made a living by voicing the film trailers for virtually every motion picture. Shown as somewhat of an egoist, his shadow towers over Bell’s film – serving as both tribute and condemnation of his worldview. The issue at hand: the voice-over community is something of an exclusive boys club. Pioneered and maintained by Lafontaine, the wealth of fruitful job opportunities are left to an old guard of actors who do their damndest to maintain the status quo.
Carol (Lake Bell) is a struggling vocal coach and the daughter of one of the more prominent voice-actors working in the community. Derailed by her father’s lack of faith and forced to shack up with her sister and brother-in-law, Carol is the film’s punching bag for a good portion of the picture, where her perpetual setbacks make for a good underdog narrative. The whole thing would’ve been a trainwreck had it not been for Bell’s natural charisma and self-deprecating humor. Essentially flailing from every disappointment to success, she’s got a lanky physicality to her that makes for some good physical humor. Not to mention, she pens a tight script. It’s straightforward and without much deviation from expectations, but she develops a steady rhythm that keeps the whole effort moving briskly.
In a World… is at its best when Bell focuses on the trajectory and career of her character. The central focus of a woman competing with her father for a prominent job opportunity is in itself a compelling selling point, not to mention the outlier of attempting to reconcile her own fragmented relationship with him. And Bell has a firm grasp of the industry lingo and entitlement issues amongst industry heads. But In a World… gets bogged down by other mismanaged side stories that give the whole effort a schlocky sitcom feel. From marital distress to a flimsy romance, Bell pads her screenplay with fluffy details that imbue on the success of her central narrative.
The problematic sitcom feel aside, it’s clear that Bell is working with a lot in mind for her first feature. And it’s a memorable effort that dwells on previously uncharted territory (any other films out there charting the voice-over industry?). Borrowing from Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, Bell has a developed visual style that adds to a film that is largely auditory. In a World… may not work on the whole, but this is the sort of debut that shows flickers of great potential.