Movie Maniac

Breezy ‘In A World. . .’ an auspicious directing, writing debut

In real life, Don LaFontaine made a name for himself as the king of movie trailer voice-overs. He coined the phrase “In a world ...” that led so many trailers it became a sort of revered cliche.

LaFontaine died in 2008 and with it went the “In a world ...” phrase, a fact that is acknowledged in the hilarious comedy “In A World ... .” But beyond that fact, everything else in the film is fictional. It’s a breezy, smart satire that sends up Hollywood sexism, examines dysfunctional family ties and even has an endearing romance at its core.

The film, which opened Friday in Wichita, is the brain child of Lake Bell, who is normally relegated to supporting roles (“It’s Complicated,” “No Strings Attached,” “What Happens in Vegas”). But she takes matters into her own hands here, deftly writing, directing and starring in this exhilarating treat.

Bell plays Carol, an uninspired vocal coach who lives with her LaFontaine-league voice-over star father, Sam (Fred Melamed). From her messy room to her unwillingness to get out of bed, it’s clear she’s wearing out her welcome at dad’s house.

But it’s still a surprise to her when Sam informs her that she must move out so his beautiful, much-too-young girlfriend can move in. Carol is exasperated.

She’s forced to move in with her sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins), and her husband, Moe (Rob Corddry of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” who has had a great year in movies, following “Warm Bodies,” “Pain & Gain” and “The Way Way Back”).

Essentially jobless, Carol is ecstatic when she gets a call from Louis (comedian Demetri Martin), who wants to hire her to teach actress Eva Longoria (who plays herself) how to do a cockney accent.

Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Gustav (Ken Marino), a friend of Sam’s. They’re discussing that there is a big push to “crown” the next big voice-over star since LaFontaine’s passing, and that there are rumors that a big studio wants to resurrect the revered “In a world ...” phrase. Sam tells Gustav he’s going to use his clout to push for Gustav to be that star. He’s sort of the son Sam never had.

But when Carol gets to her Longoria gig, a technician in an adjacent sound studio is irked because Gustav was supposed to show up to do a voice-over for a movie trailer. Carol says she can do it, and does, right on the spot. No problem.

The backing studio loves her work, and soon she’s hired to do more voice-overs, even becoming the “voice” of Sunny-D. She’s suddenly a voice-over star in an industry where women are not contenders.

When she becomes the “it” candidate for the coveted “In a world ...” gig, she discovers that she is in direct competition with her father, who refuses to support her, and Gustav, who she had a fling with at a drunken party.

And news of that debauchery, by the way, spread rapidly, even to Louis, who clearly has a crush on Carol. But he works up the nerve to tell her he likes her and wants to help her get the coveted gig.

From there, we follow Carol’s up-and-down adventures, as she grapples with her newfound stardom, her family dynamic and the possibility of romance.

Bell’s script absolutely crackles with zingers that come at rapid-fire pace. She rightfully won the Waldo Salt award at the Sundance Film Festival for best screenplay. It’s a thoroughly entertaining story (though a subplot involving Dani and Moe’s marriage threatens to overwhelm the main narrative) that’s also surprisingly tender.

The film’s performances from everyone are engaging. Bell is particularly naturalistic as the neurotic Carol. She makes her an emotional mess, but a sympathetic one.

Like her character, Bell has managed to more than shine in an industry dominated by men. “In A World ...” is an auspicious directing and writing debut. Film buffs particularly will adore it.