January 26, 2013



The actress Lake Bell’s feature-film writing/directing debut IN A WORLD… has a fresh slant on showbiz comedy, and it’s both consistently likable and sometimes very funny.  It’s also sloppy, overbroad, predictable and so technically flat that it hurts the eyes to watch–but that’s what first films are for.

The general idea of In A World…, in which various mostly narcissistic performers try to scheme their way into a plum part, is far from original. But the specific setting is:  the world of voiceover announcing, where a career-changing move is being able to rise from mere commercials to becoming the voice of big-budget movie trailers.  The real-life late Don LaFontaine is referenced in the movie as the king of the trade, and credited with being the man behind all those big-budget action movie trailers that began with, of course, “In a world…”  The movie has it that no one has uttered those words in a trailer since LaFontaine’s passing, and the word that a Hunger Games-like franchise is planning to bring the phrase back is, for this subculture, like the casting of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The main contender for the job would be Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), a wildly egotistical legend in his own mind, presented as the contemporary and runner-up to LaFontaine.  But Sam is nearing retirement, and he agrees not to put his hat in the ring, but instead to let the gig go to the preening Gustav Warner (Ken Marino) as his successor.  What neither of them know is that Sam’s daughter Carol (Bell), who’s always wanted her own voiceover career although she now works as a vocal coach, has started doing movie trailers, and with the help of lovesick engineer Louis (Demetri Martin), she’s in contention too.  Carol has always felt put down by her father, and snatching such a high-profile gig would change everything.

In A World… pads out the thin story of who’s going to get the trailer job with some sitcom misunderstanding  between Gustav and Carol about her identity, Louis’s fumbling attempts to court Carol, and a subplot about Carol’s sister Dani (Michaela Watkins), and how her flirtation with an Irish actor (Jason O’Mara) endangers her marriage to Moe (Rob Corddry).  As a director, Bell has great taste in cast, with people like Nick Offerman and Tig Notaro showing up as well, but she doesn’t always control them well, letting Melamed and Marino, in particular, overplay their already broad roles.  She’s great with Martin, though; he’s best known as a stand-up comic, but he’s very charming as Louis, and his scenes with Bell are the movie’s best.  Her real inspiration, however, was in setting the story in a world of behind-the-scenes TV and movie people we rarely see on screen, a milieu that also allows for some sharp gags, like Eva Longoria trying to learn a Cockney accent for a movie.

Bell hasn’t expended much of her energy on the visual side of the film.  There are multi-camera sitcoms with more visual style than In A World…, although cinematographer Seamus Tierney has good-looking films like Adam and Liberal Arts to his credit.  Nevertheless, the lighting is garish and flat, and the sets all look like they have pasteboard walls.

Luckily for the movie, it gathers itself together for a genuinely entertaining final couple of reels (even if Geena Davis, in a cameo as a studio executive, is oddly called upon to play a character far bitchier than necessary), providing some big laughs and a happy ending.  In A World… is hardly the sign of a startling new cinematic voice, but Bell does enough things right to make one look forward to her next try.
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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."