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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.
'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.