WRI/DIR: Lake Bell • PRO: Mark Roberts, Jett Steiger, Eddie Vaisman, Lake Bell • DOP: Seamus Tierney • ED: Tom McArdle • DES: Megan Fenton • Cast: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Ken Merino, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Nick Offerman
The second I heard the title and premise of this film my mind instantly leapt to the sublime trailer that Jerry Seinfeld crafted for his documentary ‘Comedian’. Seinfeld himself is nowhere to be seen on-screen in the inspired promo. Instead we are treated to an increasingly frustrated sound engineer trying to coach an experienced voice over artist (Hal Douglas) away from clichés like ‘In a world…….’ .
Who knows whether the same skit had a similar impact on the writer/ director and star of this film Lake Bell but I was curious whether there is more comedic material to be mined in this area. The answer is – kind of.
This specialist corner of the movie industry should be fertile territory for laughs populated as it is by rich-voiced purveyors of bombast and hyperbole. The grave and portentous intonings of a talented voiceover artist can confer gravitas on even the most creatively bankrupt project while out on the promotion trail. It’s a marketing tool fundamentally but there can also be magic in the alchemy of a truly rousing voiceover. Injecting drama where none exists. Imbuing levity in the witless. Inferring class upon trash.
And in the western world, it’s a profession seemingly dominated by a male monopoly. That’s the clever entry point for this fiction as Bell’s vocal coach Carol strives to venture into the lucrative movie voiceover market. As depicted, studio approved vocal artists are drawn from a shallow pool. A very shallow pool including Carol’s own competitive father (Fred Melamed) who is an industry legend but still as insecure as any novice. Carol is intimidated at the prospect of breaking up the boys’ club but she is encouraged by a smitten sound engineer Louis (Demitri Martin) and her older sister.
Bizarrely, as Carol finally makes inroads in her career, her father resorts to subtly undermining her at first before turning openly hostile. The prize of securing the narration for a guaranteed blockbuster franchise ‘The Amazon Games’ becomes the crucible in which family allegiances are tested to the limit.
If that sounds a bit slight, you’ll have to sift through many subplots to keep track of the film’s central spine. Bell clutters proceedings with a variety of tangents and cameos that occasionally entertain but mainly distract. The conclusion that the film is being padded out to reach ninety minutes is hard to shake. For instance, a soapy relationship crisis for Carol’s sister generates few moments that would be missed if excised in its’ entirety. Similarly, an early brief appearance by Eva Longoria displays promise as Carol is hired to salvage the star’s apparently diabolical botching of a Cockney accent. It’s a funny notion, yet the scene fails to raise a smile nevermind a laugh.
In the end In a World is amiable and often impressive. It contains a couple of rib tickling moments and several sparkling one liners. It is uneven however. Logically enough because if all her roles before and behind the camera were judged separately, Bell would receive differing grades in each discipline. As a vehicle she designed for herself, the resultant film is more sturdy station wagon than Porsche.
And still my thoughts return to that ‘Comedian’ promo and the irrefutable feeling that it achieved more in a minute and a half than this feature manages in an hour and a half.
15A (See IFCO for details)
In a World… is released on 13th September 2013