Lake Bell’s In A World... desperately wants to be clever, and sometimes it is. But not as often as you hope it will be. The offbeat comedy, about a vocal coach trying to break into the world of big-time voiceover work, is quirky without being precious or heartwarming, a fact definitely in its favor. But its flimsy plot can’t quite support all the characters stuffed into the script, and the movie plays out in a weirdly static way that makes it feel improvised and uneven, leaving a few too much time during which nothing funny is happening.
Still, the premise is original and the cast appealing. Bell, who wrote and directed, plays Carol, a barely employed couch surfer whose father (Fred Melamed) is a voiceover legend as well as the confidante to the industry’s rising star, a preening jerk named Gustav (Ken Marino). Gustav, we are told, is destined for great things, the pinnacle of which is a voiceover for a movie trailer using the classic intro, “In a world...”.
But with a little help from a smitten colleague (Demetri Martin), Carol finally lands a job (in one of the film’s sly but on-target jokes about Hollywood, it’s a promo for a kiddie rom com). The producers like her work so much, Carol finds herself in the running for the coveted “In a world” trailer, which would be quite a coup in the male-dominated industry. Neither Gustav nor her father is pleased.
Along the way to possible success, Carol collects unusual accents for her archive, bickers with her father while trying to win his approval and gets caught in the middle of marital troubles between her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her goofy husband Moe (Rob Corddry). Their storyline illustrates one of the film’s central problems: There are some funny moments as Dani ponders an affair with a guy with a devastating Irish accent and Moe gets nervous around a pretty neighbor, but their squabble is resolved so quickly its main objective seems to be to pad out the running time. Still their fate is better than that of Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), who never gets to do much beyond wear a cool hat and look awesome.
Everybody in the cast who uses it excels at stuttering out Bell’s hesitant, nervous dialogue, even though they begin to sound alike after awhile. And paired with Martin’s anxious jabbering, Bell’s vague, confused air is particularly amusing. You’re rooting for her, just like you’re rooting for Carol. In A World... shows their promise but indicates that neither the writer nor her protagonist are at the top of their game. Yet.
Cast: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Ken Merino, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Nick Offerman.
Writer-director: Lake Bell.
Producers: Lake Bell, Mark Roberts, Jett Steiger, Eddie Vaisman.
A Roadside Attractions release. Running time: 93 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual references. Opens Friday Aug. 23 in Miami-Dade: South Beach, Sunset; Broward: Gateway; Palm Beach: Living Room.