If you’ve seen the films of Greta Gerwig or you love TV’s ”Girls”, you can instantly identify this genre. It’s low-fi, scrappy, usually a comedy/drama/romance as Gen Xers try to get their lives together living in funky apartments in rough areas of major American cities, have no money but buy all their coffee at name brand chains and wonder why they’re not married, successful or have kids, stuck in a kind of eternal wayward youth.
Lake Bell of TV’s ”Children’s Hospital” writes, produces and directs herself as Carol, a Los Angeles voice coach and aspiring Hollywood voice-over artist who lives in the shadow of her father Sam (Fred Melamed), a legend in the voiceover business and the heir apparent to the crown of the mighty Dan LaFontaine (more on him later).
When Carol’s father kicks her out, it dissolves some of her aimlessness and she resolves to chase her dream of being the first name brand female voice-over artist. She moves in with her prickly sister and brother-in-law (Rob Corddry) and applies herself to land the biggest new trailer gig in town.
But first she falls prey to the charms of a Lothario competitor in the business, and when it turns out she’s up against him for the dream job, her father decides to come out of retirement and go up against them both too.
It’s all very nice and quirky and sweet as the nerdy recording studio guy pursues Carol with the kind of 21st century stilted hipster mating dance. Carol’s appeal is all klutzy cuteness as she plays (yet another) goofy woman-girl among people who all seem to have their shit together – and she has the dungarees to prove it.
The dialogue and script are also very free-form, Bell going for naturalism rather than ‘writing’ on screen, with characters stumbling over words, talking over each other and delivering oh-so-ironic modern missives sprinkled liberally with the word ‘like’.
But like ”Frances Ha”, ”Lola Versus”, and almost every other entertainment property today about young women that doesn’t feature them just for their sex appeal, ”In a World” is cut from the same cloth Woody Allen established a generation ago – the psychological undermining of one’s worth through chronic self-doubt and the constant deconstruction of a life seemingly gone wrong. It’s well made but you’ve seen it all before.
What’s more if you’re a dedicated movie fan you know what the title means, but when the voice-over artist industry is not only the backdrop but is referenced by the name of the movie, it will restrict the appeal considerably. Too few casual moviegoers will have any idea who LaFontaine was or why the words ‘in a world’ are such a big deal to these characters, and much of the dramatic heft that drives their motivations will be lost.
(If you’re interested, the late LaFontaine was the godfather of the trailer voice-over industry, famous during the 80s for his authoritative baritone. He didn’t coin the phrase ‘in a world’, but he became so synonymous with it studio marketers would write it into voice-over scripts they knew he’d be getting. The conceit of In A World is that the words became so much a part of the LaFontaine mystique that the next person to speak them in a trailer will inherit a very weighty mantle.)