In a world … where hokey movie trailers are invariably narrated by mellifluous male voices, one woman dares to speak the hokiest of all phrases.
In a world … where attractive comic actresses don’t find much work outside TV and cookie-cutter rom coms, one of those actresses dared to write, direct and star in her own movie vehicle. And it’s pretty damn good.
The actress is Lake Bell, who has done her share of supporting rom-com work; in No Strings Attached, she brought unexpected laughs to the standard role of the “hot girl” who briefly distracts the hero from the heroine. The role she’s written for herself is Carol Solomon, the frazzled, thirtyish daughter of a pompous Hollywood voiceover star. He’s played by a deliciously unctuous and weaselly Fred Melamed.
Carol’s dad’s much younger girlfriend (Alexandra Holden) is poised to move in, robbing our heroine of the only home she can afford in LA on her salary as a vocal coach. Meanwhile, the recent death of real-life voiceover star Don LaFontaine (known as the “Voice of God”) has left his fictional rivals scrambling to fill the void. The prize up for grabs is a career-making gig as the voice of a blockbuster series called The Amazon Games. Carol’s boss (Demetri Martin), who has a secret crush on her, encourages her to compete with her own golden tones for the brass ring.
The movie teems with Apatow-esque quirky characters, involved subplots and profane humor, though Bell’s screenplay sidesteps physical gags in favor of verbal wit. Particularly memorable are Ken Marino as a narcissistic trust fundie who’s also competing for the big voiceover job; and Holden as Melamed’s ditzy girlfriend, who — against stepmonster stereotype — is as nice as pie.
A more serious plot thread concerns the fraying relationship between Carol’s sister (Michaela Watkins) and brother-in-law (Rob Corddry), whose apartment Carol invades after Daddy kicks her out. This story drags a bit, like one of Nicole Holofcener’s upper-class character studies with a shot of rom-com silliness. (Carol’s geeky habit of collecting accents with a tape recorder becomes an all-too-convenient plot device.) But Bell and Watkins have good sister chemistry, and Corddry gets a chance to show depth lacking from his usual glinty-eyed shit-stirrer roles.
Bell clearly goes out of her way to compensate for her Hollywood good looks by dressing and acting like a goof, but her goofiness just as clearly comes from the heart. While Carol isn’t a wildly original creation — a snarky, hardworking dame who rolls her eyes at starlets and reality-show divas, like pretty much every Tina Fey character ever — she’s easy to like.
The film’s running gag is that wherever Carol goes in LA, she encounters young women who talk like “squeaky toys” and “sexy babies” — making her, and us, wonder if the world is ready for a female voice of authority. The answer to that question, which involves a cameo from outspoken better-roles-for-women advocate Geena Davis, turns out to be rather more complicated than “You go, girl.” In a World… isn’t a fist-pump or Motown-montage kind of movie, and it lacks the big setpieces of Bridesmaids. But it is good news for those who would rather not see funny women relegated to a world of pink-tinged pratfalls.
In a state … where you have to catch indie movies right away before they go poof, In a World… departs this Friday. I apologize for the mistiming — we almost always lack the advance notice necessary to preview such films — and hope you’ll consider catching it on video.