“In a World”
Film Reviewed by Lisa Umhoefer
You are always hardest on the children that have potential, expecting the best from them. In a World, starring Lake Bell and Fred Melamed had potential; it had all the right elements and some fantastically funny writing, but simply doesn’t live up to expectations.
Although the movie offers some amusing moments in the style of “Best in Show,” it suffers from the greed that often marks writer-director debut films. Bell’s film flits from parody to romantic comedy to family drama. We are never quite sure if we are supposed to be laughing at the world we are in, or more dramatically intertwined with the characters.
The story revolves around Carol (Bell), a struggling thirty year old voice coach still living with, and under the shadow of her father, Sam (Melamed), a successful voice-over artist. Sam is so successful, in fact, that he is poised to win a Lifetime Achievement award for voice-over. Carol would like to enter this profession, but as her father tells her point blank, the world is not interested in female voice-overs. This revelation comes in one of the most entertaining scenes of the movie. Watching Fred Melamed act, with his wonderfully smooth voice was absolutely mesmerizing. The fact that he wasn’t entirely nice only adds to the pleasure. Sam announces that his young girlfriend is moving in and summarily evicts Carol. She is on her own to face her problems.
Luckily for Carol, her problems are quickly resolved. She moves in with her sister, and finds professional success simply by asking a producer to fill in for a sick voice-over star. This is where “In a World” takes a turn for the worse. Bell glosses over the challenges that professionals face in the voice-over world, never addressing the complicated career barriers that women professionals working in voice-over face. Even Carol’s romantic entanglements are straightforward: the final relationship involves the right guy finally working up the courage to admit his feelings. Carol responds by saying she likes him back. Easy. Wouldn’t it be nice if life were always that simple?
Ultimately, the film’s central conflict is unfulfilled. The biggest challenge Carol faces is dealing with the wrath of those she is poised to replace, yet it’s left unclear whether she would self-sabotage her career in order to avoid alienating her father with her success. Carol briefly struggles with the thought of pulling back from claiming the life she wants. There is tension when she avoids confronting her father, but then her supporters quickly come to the rescue. Had Carol been granted space to waver independently between successes and failures, her character would appear more empathetic, and audiences would enjoy watching her quirky personality evolve.
Carol’s success is further downplayed when the studio executive (Geena Davis) tells her that she was not the best person for the job, she was chosen merely because she is a woman. The conflict is contrived. If Carol satisfies the executive’s need of a woman voice-over artist, isn’t she the best person for the job? This is one of the most interesting points of the film. What constitutes “the best”? Is it some absolute scientific measure of frequency and pitch, or is a conglomeration of factors including the desired effects on the psyche of the audience?
In a World attempts to address the battle of the sexes, but its treatment of this topic is superficial. Jokes about shoe size and warrior princesses leave audiences wanting more substance. Likewise, the men are portrayed as young boys in adult clothes and most of the women characters matter only in relation to the men in their lives. A more intriguing question might be: why does it matter if the voice-over artist is a man or a woman?
This is a coming of age film where the protagonist ends up changing location, not her mindset. Hardship and failure elude Carol, rendering her achievements less significant. Even her father’s self-improvement is not much of his own doing, but the result of an ultimatum from his girlfriend. Finally, the film’s direction is confusing. Audiences will be entertained by spots of humor, but frustrated by a wandering plot and underdeveloped themes.