Sundance Film Festival is a breeding ground for exciting, new talent, with many budding filmmakers first stepping foot into the short film arena. The latest example comes with writer/director Lake Bell, who premiered her short Worst Enemy at the 2011 festival, and has now returned with her first feature-length effort, In a World…. Diving into the voice talent industry, Bell has crafted a relatable, humanistic small-scale drama, but one that could use another polish.
Looming under the shadow of her father, renowned talent Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed) — one of Hollywood’s go-to men for movie trailer voice-overs — Carol Solomon (Bell) is struggling to get into the business, resigned to being a vocal coach and picking up freelance gigs on the side. When Hollywood’s king of voice-over talent, Don LaFontaine, sadly passes away, the studio brass are looking for their next major artist, one that can take over the famous phrase, “In a world…” The competition includes Sotto, as well as his protege, the young, obnoxious Gustav Warner (an always hilarious Ken Marino), but it isn’t long before Solomon gets her big break and the competitions heats up.
While Bell invites us into a world that most audiences will likely know little about, it’s often another subplot where this new artist truly displays a knack for relatability and crafting convincing human characters. Following the marital struggles between Solomon’s sister Dani (Michael Watkins) and her husband (Rob Corddry) when the former gets (briefly) involved with another man, per Bell’s initial wishes, our director provides a mature handle with a convincing, sincere outcome.
When Bell goes for major comedic moments, they occasionally fall flat, but she hits a stride in the little beats, particularly her character’s relationship with sound tech Louis (Demetri Martin). The duo display strong chemistry and whether it be small exchanges when one stays at the other’s house or their banter at the post-production house, Bell’s writing and performance truly shines through in this particular aspect.
With an ending that tampers off without quite hitting home, and many missed jokes, In a World… may not be a fully confident or overtly satisfying directorial debut, but it proves that Bell has smarts and style, qualities that could easily transfer to the world of major studio comedies. Considering her evident passion, I wouldn’t doubt we’d see her in this bigger playing field soon.