Movie review: 'In a World' succeeds as screwball satire

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Women have triumphantly broken down most employment barriers. Few hurdles are left to leap, few male-only occupations remaining for the fair sex to integrate and conquer. Just pro football, pneumatic-drill jackhammering -- and movie-trailer voiceovers.

The third might not jump as quickly to your mind as the first two, but it jumps constantly to the mind of Carol Solomon (Lake Bell), whose legendary father, Sam (Fred Melamed), reigns imperially at the top of that tricky Hollywood trade.

'In a World'

2.5 stars = Average
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin.

  • Rating:

    R for language and sexual references.

Who cares about such an invisible, vocal sideline of the movie business? The people in it, that's who. Especially Sam, a monster narcissist whose vanity license plate says "ENUN-C8." The Golden Trailer Awards are coming up, and he's a shoo-in for the G.T. Lifetime Achievement Award.

Also coming up is a huge, lucrative gig doing the trailer for the industry's new blockbuster female-action quadrilogy. Aspiring voiceover-wannabe Carol desperately wants the job -- in competition with Daddy. "It's time to pass the torch," some faceless narrator intones, "in a broad new world ... ."

But she'll have to pry the torch out of his cold, dead hands. And she'll also have to compete with oversexed Gustav (Ken Marino), her father's own preferred protege.

Ms. Bell, at 34, is not just the star but the producer, director and writer of "In a World ...," a quirky satire of the cliquish sound-studio looping and dubbing ADR ("additional dialogue recording") business. The film's equally quirky subplots involve Carol's assistance -- and romancing -- by a nerdy sound engineer (Demetri Martin), her sibling rivalry with sister Dani (Michaela Watkins), Dani's marital issues with a nice loser husband (Rob Corddry) she's afraid of losing, and their father's problematic new girlfriend (Alexandra Holden).

Everybody's sleeping with everybody except the one he/she really wants to sleep with.

Ms. Bell plays Carol with goofy, engaging charm. She's a smart screwball comedian in the latter-day Carole Lombard mode.

But the funniest thing about "In a World" is Mr. Melamed, a veteran Woody Allen favorite ("Hannah and Her Sisters," "Crimes and Misdemeanors," "Radio Days," etc.). He's good here -- although this role doesn't measure up to his hilarious performance as Sy Ableman, the monumentally self-satisfied lover in the Coen Brothers' "A Serious Man," who suggests the hero move out of his own house to the Jolly Roger Motel ("It has a pool") so that Sy can move in with the hero's wife. It was the best film of 2009 but got lost in the "Hurt Locker" and "Avatar" shuffle. Did you miss it? I thought so. You run right out, get and watch it.

Stand-up comic Mr. Martin (from "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart") is amusing as Carol's attention-deficit romantic foil, with a gigantic nose to rival Cyrano's.

Kinky nose moments abound in this film. Sexy Gustav, awash in self-love, tells Carol, "There's something about you that reminds me of me!" (his ultimate compliment), and then passionately kisses -- in fact, sucks on -- her nose. Rhinophilia? All I can say is, there's a plethora of pug-ugly people with comically large schnozolas here, including the horrendously hirsute Melamed.

Oh, and Geena Davis has a little cameo. She's not ugly, and her nose is fine.

The deep-background issue, according to auteur Bell, is that virtually no film trailers have ever employed female voiceover talent, except for "Gone in 60 Seconds," which used Melissa Disney. Ms. Bell has been obsessed with the art form since childhood, when -- at age 11 -- she begged flight attendants to let her do the passenger safety announcements on airplanes. She recalls (and so should we) the late great Don LaFontaine, grandmaster of movie trailers, whose stentorian voice we heard 1,000 times without ever knowing its owner's name.

Trouble is, there's not enough set-up. The one major -- and very funny -- voiceover recording session comes too late in the picture. We are frequently told, but rarely see or hear, why father and daughter are both so good at what they do.

It's a fresh spoof of fabulous Hollywood backstabbing and sexist insecurities, shot in distinctly unfabulous Los Angeles locations, and even though it never fully gels, it is one woman's entertaining effort to -- literally and figuratively -- find her own voice.

Opens today at the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill.


Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris:


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