One of the lessons I took away from watching In A World…, the directorial debut of the supremely talented Lake Bell, is that stakes can be anything, as long as they matter. Hell, there was an entire movie that built up the concept of going to White Castle until actually getting there felt like a monumental victory.
Likewise, In A World (I’m going to do away with the ellipses for the rest of the review, purely for sanity’s sake) seems like the stakes are small potatoes: that classic, smooth, “movie trailer” voice seems almost quaint these days, and I’ve argued that some of the best trailers have no dialogue at all, so what does it really matter if one person gets to do movie trailer voiceover or not?
It matters, of course, because the movie sets it up to matter. The characters care about it in a convincing way, so we care about it. From the opening scene, a faux-documentary that sets the background without getting bogged down in exposition, to the quiet, understated way Bell is upstaged by her more famous father, In A World does an excellent job of lining up the dominoes. But what happens when they start to fall? Read on to find out.
First, let’s just get this out of the way: Lake Bell is awesome and adorable and a brilliant comedian and oh my god have you seen her in Children’s Hospital – so pretty much anything she’s involved in, I’m going to give huge bonus points to. I think this is a pretty fantastic movie even if you don’t have a massive crush on Lake Bell, but just bear with me for a second here:
Is not Lake Bell awesome? Who else could deliver a line like “your baby has horse AIDS” with such perfect deadpan exasperation?
Back to the movie: It’s a pretty stellar cast, if you’re into that kind of thing. Rob Corddry, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro… it’s a veritable festival of the indie comedy scene.
So it’s obviously got the right pieces in play. But how do they all come together? Really, really well. The comedy ranges from understated moments of sharp dialogue, to turning-it-up-to-11 moments of physical comedy like this one:
It’s also a movie that’s appropriate for the current climate. Movie trailer narration has been straight up dominated by men since it was a thing, and it’s such a specific, niche industry that it flew under the radar. Essentially, this is a movie about Lake Bell’s character’s attempts to break into the industry. It resonates. There’s a very real “root for the underdog” vibe here that’s helped along by Bell herself, who plays down her composure in favor of an awkward, but not annoying, person who’s really really good at one thing, not so hot at anything else.
One of the most fascinating, but ultimately frustrating elements of the movie is that, while it does have a simple, compelling plot, it tends to wander. For example, the “failing marriage rekindled” subplot between Rob Corddry’s character and Lake Bell’s character’s sister (that wasn’t the most elegant sentence, I’ll grant you) – it’s actually quite good. Corddry in particularly manages to convey a quiet charm, and the dynamics of their marriage make for some poignant, compelling, moments… that have little to do with the actual plot.
When it does manage to stick to the main storyline, this as a movie that’s fun, lighthearted, thoughtful, while still managing to pack a comedic punch. It’s well worth the 90-odd minutes it takes to watch, so do yourself a favor and hop on Netflix Instant Watch and give it a try.
Come for Lake Bell’s “sexy alien baby” voice, stay for Tig Notaro‘s scene stealing one-liners.