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‘In a World …’ shows Bell’s talents

Fri., Sept. 13, 2013

Lake Bell and Fred Melamed star in the film, “In a World...,” a comedy about a struggling voice coach.
Lake Bell and Fred Melamed star in the film, “In a World...,” a comedy about a struggling voice coach.

“In a World …” Sitting on a page staring at you, the words feel flat.

Now imagine, if you will, one of those deep baritone voices pouring drama and jeopardy into each syllable, rich tones that resonate to the very marrow.

Now pull back and see headphones, the mic and the man, because it usually is a man, with a scarf warming that million-dollar instrument. The one that keeps him at the top of the cutthroat Hollywood subculture of movie trailer voice-overs.

That is the world that 30-year-old Carol Solomon (Lake Bell) wants to be in. That is the world her father, Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed) rules. And that is the world – and the relationship – so humorously picked apart by Bell, who proves a triple threat as star, author and director of “In a World …”

The slight and exceedingly sly indie has been a hit on the festival circuit. Its sparkling dialogue earned Bell a screenwriting award at Sundance. But mostly “In a World …” stands as an entertaining first crack at what one can hope will be a long career behind the camera. That is where it seems the actress can make her mark.

In front of it, at least in other people’s films, Bell tends to play the long, lean, slightly angry intellectual type. Her role as the hard-edged beautiful second wife in “It’s Complicated,” with Alec Baldwin under her thumb and Meryl Streep as his much softer ex, is typical.

As Carol, Bell is completely, and charmingly, out of sorts. Those long limbs are as awkward as a colt’s. She is still living under dad’s roof and still intimidated by his overbearing, condescending assessments of her prospects. And no one overbears and condescends quite like a voice-over artist. In Melamed, the director has found an absolute virtuoso.

The interplay between the two perfectly captures the natural – and unnatural – competition between parent and child both grubbing for the same morsel. In this case, they fight each other for the most coveted movie trailer voice-over gig in the world, a female-centric “quadrilogy” that appears to star Cameron Diaz in a loincloth. This film is nothing if not specific with its nitty-gritty. Also in the running is dad’s younger protege, Gustav Warner, played to deliciously decadent effect by Ken Marino.

But it will take a while for the possible power shift to begin rattling their relationship, because Bell has a few other fish she intends to fry.

Things start getting stirred up when father kicks daughter out of the house to make room for his girlfriend, Jamie (Alexandra Holden). It’s very civilized but painful.

Carol decamps to her sister’s, where Dani (Michaela Watkins) and Moe (Rob Corddry) are dealing with a marriage on the decline. There will be dalliances to bedevil things, but Carol’s head is so firmly in the clouds she misses the signs that trouble is on its way.

Her days are spent at the recording studio, where Louis, a delightful Demetri Martin, runs the soundboard and moons over her. She’s a vocal coach, and there’s a funny bit with Eva Longoria, one of a number of famous faces in the film.

Most of the action is driven by the ways in which Carol stumbles her way into the movie trailer voice-over big time. Her rise is accompanied by some uncomfortable sex, a little fumbling flirting, family squabbles and the rare look at a quirky corner of the movie business.

There are also plenty of rough edges in this first film that are pretty easy to spot. But like Carol – all arms and legs and insecurities akimbo – “In a World…” is completely endearing. I can’t wait to see what Bell will do next.

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