'In a World…' is quite literally a film about a woman struggling to have her voice heard in an industry and, obviously, a world, overwhelmingly dominated by men. It is one of the rare occasions where the vehicle of the film's narrative and the meaning behind it are essentially the same thing, and yet the elements it uses to convey both are different and smartly arranged, so that the significance is simultaneously felt as a straightforward story about a struggling voice-over artist, as well as an in-joke/assessment of the entertainment industry as a whole. Hailing from first time writer-director Lake Bell, 'In a World…' focuses primarily on underemployed voice-over artist/voice coach Carol (Bell), as she navigates the rather insular, offshoot of the film business, where she's met with many of the same impossible standards women in film (and other professions) have long had to deal with.
For many, Bell will be recognizable from her performances in films like 'No Strings Attached,' 'Black Rock,' and the short-lived HBO series 'How to Make it in America,' and with this, her directorial debut, it seems she's ready to take the next step in her career. That is oddly prescient, as the film begins with Carol, still living at home with her father Sam (Fred Melamed) – a superstar in the voice-over industry, who should be her role model, inspiration, and mentor, but instead serves up nuggets of wisdom about how the industry is "not craving a female sound" – until he invites his young fiancée Jamie (Alexandra Holden) to move in and summarily kicks Carol out. These events force Carol to move in with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins – the underviewed, but quite excellent 'Trophy Wife) and brother-in-law Moe (Rob Corddry), and begin to navigate their off-kilter relationship, while working on the next phase of her career.
Around the same time, it's revealed that a major studio quadrilogy, adapted from a series of books about a warring Amazonian clan in a post-apocalyptic future, is planning on resurrecting the "In a world…" trailer-speak that was made so famous by the late Don LaFontaine. As luck would have it, Carol winds up being in the right place at the right time, and is afforded the chance to submit her voice for the job. After receiving some positive feedback from the studio – via the shy sound engineer Louis (Demetri Martin) – Carol soon finds herself embroiled in a competition for the job with challengers that include the hilariously haughty heir to the voice-over throne, Gustav (Ken Marino), and, after learning of his daughter's chances at the highly-coveted gig, her own father.
Always aware of her ensemble, Bell spins a series of subplots out of Carol's primary story that are intended to support the film's primary conceit, with the exception of a few stragglers. Mainly, it seems as though the movie is trying to be as accommodating as possible to the supporting actors, as Bell finds scenes and small stories to allow the likes of Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro, and the aforementioned Martin and Marino to have some impact on the overall storyline. Offerman and Notaro are primarily there as fellow sound engineers who alternately encourage and playfully belittle Louis' attempts to woo Carol, especially after she's made the acquaintance of Gustav. But later, the entire film digresses into a side story involving Dani and Moe and a hunky Irishman played by Jason O'Mara who threatens to break up their sandwich bar-loving marriage. The storyline itself maintains tonal elements consistent with the rest of the film, and Watkins and Corddry deliver fine performances, so it doesn't actually feel like much of a departure, but to go off the point for so long does feel like it's robbing Carol's story of some of the weight that might have made it more impactful. Additionally, the segment takes up so much time, the efforts of Martin and Marino feel a tad superfluous in the grand scheme of things, though they each manage to have a handful of successful scenes that play on each actor's strong suits – i.e., Marino's hilarious over-the-top self-aggrandizing pomposity and Martin's innate amiability.
This element proves to be a small misfire in what is ultimately a winning film that is sharp and smart from top to bottom. Bell has a beguiling quality about her as a character actor, and much of that comes through in her writing and directing as well. There's a far more experienced filmmaker working on this film than her resume would have anyone believe. Although there are some miscalculations with regard to the plot and where the film chooses to focus some of its energy, many of these decisions feel like they were honest risks taken by a first time director – the biggest of which is a brilliant shift late in the movie that's tantamount to a slap in the face. It can be uneven at times, but it all adds up to a charming, funny, and intelligent debut feature.
In a perfect world, 'In a World…' will be the start of even better things to come from Lake Bell.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'In a World…' comes from Sony Picture Home Entertainment as a single 50GB Blu-ray disc in the standard keepcase. The disc will auto play several previews before going to the top menu, from which you can choose to watch the feature, or to plow through the special features.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment typically delivers very nice looking discs and 'In a World…' is no exception. Colors are bright and vivid, but very life like; skintones are very true, as is everything else in the image. There's no substantial flourishes with the way the film is presented, so what the audience is left with is a picture that looks representative of daily life. Detail is superbly rendered, which offers defined edges, fine textures, and small details on an image that's free from grain.
Contrast levels are strong throughout, producing rich black levels that are not hampered in any way by banding or poor shadow delineation. In that regard, the image is also free of artifacts or other detriments that would mar the image. There are a few inconsistencies here and there, with regard to clarity, but some of that could be attributed to how the film was shot.
Overall, the image here is fantastic, and belies the fact that 'In a World…' was a smaller film that likely had the budget to match.
With its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, 'In a World…' does precisely what a film about having your voice heard should do – that is: it presents the dialogue with high priority, but not at the expense of other elements in the film – which are surprisingly robust on this mix. For the most part, the sound is loaded toward the front, as this is essentially a dialogue-driven comedy. That doesn't keep the rest of the mix from shining, however. There are a few sequences in the film, either at a party, or an award ceremony where the rear channel speakers actually handle the atmospheric and surround effects with far more energy than was originally expected.
Other than some of the musical effects promoting the fake Amazonian quadrilogy, there's little in the way LFE present in the film, but that doesn't detract too much from the overall quality of the sound on this disc.
In a World... Promos
'In a World…' is a sharp and funny movie that actually has something to say, and has chosen the perfect industry to serve as its setting. The humor is intelligent and the characters are all charming, even when they're intentionally not. Bell has proven herself a triple-threat with a terrific script and well-directed feature to add to her already impressive resume. While the film does get a little uneven in some places, its energy and joviality help make up for those inconsistencies. The supplements are a little on the light side, but there is a great commentary with Bell, which is really all anyone could ask for. With great picture and sound thrown in as well, 'In a World…' comes recommended.