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Finding a voice in delightful 'In a World …'

Published August 30, 2013 9:28 am

Review • A light comedy with family themes and a feminist message.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you're going camping, take actress Lake Bell with you. Bell, in her hilariously winning debut as a writer and director, "In a World … ," demonstrates an uncanny ability to pack a lot of stuff into a movie and make it feel lighter than air.

Bell stars as Carol Solomon, a 30-ish single woman in Hollywood who works as a freelance vocal coach. Early on, we see her trying to get a convincing cockney accent out of Eva Longoria. She's fascinated with voices and whips out her mini-recorder any time an interesting accent comes within earshot.

Carol has bigger dreams, though. She wants to be a voice-over performer, recording narration for movie trailers and commercials in the footsteps of her father, Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed). Sam came up in the generation of voice-over legends that includes the late Don LaFontaine, who coined the immortal phrase "in a world … " — a trademark retired after LaFontaine's death in 2005. The studios are thinking of reviving it to promote an upcoming big-budget action franchise.

Carol would like to land that gig, but the self-centered Sam shoots down her ambitions. "The industry does not crave a female sound," Sam tells his daughter. He is grooming another successor, the vain Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), for the job.

But Carol has backers, namely Lewis (Demetri Martin), a sound engineer who is quietly and awkwardly crushing on her. She also gets support from her sister, Dani (Michaela Watkins), who is distracted by marital boredom with her dull-but-loving husband, Moe (Rob Corddry).

Bell assembles a winning comic ensemble, deploying her "Children's Hospital" co-stars Corddry and Marino alongside friends such as Martin and Watkins, as well as a Greek chorus in Lewis' sound studio that includes comic Tig Notaro and "Parks & Recreation's" Nick Offerman.

Bell's script, which won her the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, deftly dovetails Carol's professional angst with her daddy-daughter dilemma and her clumsy attempts at romance. Her dialogue is bouncy and funny, yet grounded in the characters' neurotic normalness. Among other things, Bell creates a new catch-phrase: "sister code," invoked by Carol to wheedle assistance from Dani.

And, topping it off, Bell mockingly targets a pet peeve: the high-pitched, tentative vocal patterns — she calls it "sexy baby voice" —used by many otherwise intelligent women. It's a feminist empowerment message that gives "In a World …" an extra lift without dragging down Bell's effervescent humor.

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'In a World...'

A vocal coach has big dreams, and faces a wall of chauvinism, in this winning comedy from actress/writer/director Lake Bell.

Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.

When • Opens Friday, Aug. 30.

Rating • R for language including some sexual references.

Running time • 93 minutes.