Film review: IN A WORLD, from Built For Speed

How many times have we heard the deep mellifluous burr of a movie trailer voice-over artist exclaiming “This year” or “In a world”? The owner of that voice was more likely than not American vocal legend Don La Fontaine who recorded thousands of voice-overs for film trailers and TV commercials before his death in 2008.   The vacuum he left in the movie trailer voice over-world and the scramble to become the new custodian of the coveted “in a world” catchphrase forms the basis for the low budget romantic comedy/ drama In a World.

This film seems to be a passion project for its writer/ director/ star Lake Bell.  She plays Carol Solomon, a struggling voice-over artist and vocal coach who lives in the shadow of her Father, Sam (Fred Malamed) a famed and extremely arrogant voice-over man who has, in an act of self-proclaimed benevolence decided to step aside and let a newcomer have the plum gigs.  Rather than encourage his daughter to prosper in the business, however, Sam instead grooms sleazy voice man Gustav Warner (Ken Marino) for his throne.  As Carol starts winning announcing gigs, her Father begins to feel threatened and a strange and bitter rivalry develops between them.  When the studios decide to resurrect the “in a world” catchphrase in their trailers Carol and her Father enter into a fierce battle for ownership of the three magic words.

The film attempts to mine some laughs from the professional conflict between Carol and her dad although the result is more of an oddball family drama than a comedy.  Much of the dialogue is improvised and regrettably, little of it is funny as characters just tend to riff on their various neuroses.

The film also tries, with middling success, to extract some quirky New Girl/ Frances Ha-type humour from Carol’s fumbling romance with nice guy producer Louis (Demetri Martin) who seems to have the same hair stylist as Howard Wolowitz from the Big Bang Theory.  Strangely, Carol also has a very dubious and unbelievable romantic liaison with the vile Gustav who is such an arrogant slime-ball that one would expect an intelligent woman like Carol to find him utterly repulsive.

Lake Bell, who resembles Julia Zemiro, is an enjoyably feisty and zany screen presence but she isn’t exactly an hilarious comic actor.  Also, she fails to inject the more sensitive and romantic moments with genuine emotion.  As Sam, Fred Malamed has some of the fragile vanity of Hank Kingsley from the Larry Sanders Show and his blustering ego-monster antics are probably the funniest thing in this film.  Michaela Watkins as Carol’s sister Dani and Rob Corddroy as Dani’s husband provide typically solid support.  There are also moderately amusing cameos from Geena Davis as a corporate meanie and Eva Longoria as a slightly ridiculous version of herself. 

Amid the general frivolity and romantic dramas, the film points out the apparent sexism of the voice-over industry and the boys club determined to keep women at bay.  The female empowerment message is admirable but the film appears to shoot itself in the foot by having Carol sarcastically mock other women.  

Also, In a World isn’t exactly a visual feast as it has the drab low-budget look of a tele-movie with most scenes taking place in a couple of rooms. 

The exploration of this odd little quasi-celebrity sub-culture probably would have made a fun quirky documentary but it makes very thin source material for a drama and despite this type of voice-over becoming a pop-cultural trope unto itself it doesn’t make for great comedy.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Comedy/ Drama.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Lake Bell.

Release date: 3rd April 2014

Running time: 93 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 


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