Her credits tell me I’ve seen Lake Bell once before — in the execrable Over Her Dead Body (2008) — and I suppose I heard her in Shrek Forever After (2010), but I’ve never noticed her in a way that would make her memorable. (In the case of Over Her Dead Body that can only be in her favor.) Well, here she is starring in a movie that she also wrote, directed and co-produced. It’s also a movie I will not soon forget, and I mean that in the best way. This is one seriously charming, funny, clever, surprising movie. And it’s made by someone who knows what a tripod and dolly are and isn’t afraid to use them. (I believe there’s one hand-held scene in the film — and it’s used where it fits.) It’s a Hollywood satire about an aspect of the movies we think of only in passing, if at all (and then mostly to make fun of it) — the world of the folks who do voice-overs for movie trailers.
The film works on the concept that after the death of real-life voice-over artist Don LaFontaine in 2008, his trademark phrase, “In a world,” was retired from use. Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know, but bringing the phrase back to the world of trailers is central to the story of Carol Solomon (Bell). Carol — a vocal coach specializing in dialects — is the live-at-home daughter of Sam Sotto (Fred Melamed, A Serious Man), who is second only to LaFontaine in voice-over fame. He’s also a narcissistic, self-important jerk with a brand new 30-year-old trophy girlfriend, Jamie (TV actress Alexandra Holden). In addition, Sam resists Carol’s desire to follow in his footsteps as a voice-over artist. (“The industry does not crave a female sound,” he insists.) His idea of a natural successor to his legacy is smarmy, self-satisfied Gustav Werner (Ken Marino, We’re the Millers). He tells Carol to stick to doing funny accents.
Further, Sam’s desire to move Jamie into his house makes it necessary for Carol to move out — there’s no rush, though, Sam tells her, concluding that later that evening would be soon enough. So Carol ends up bunking with her sister, Dani (TV actress Michaela Watkins), and her husband, Moe (Rob Corddry, The Way, Way Back). However, things are about to take several interesting turns — the 93 minute film does not lack for incident — the most important of which comes when sound engineer (and long-suffering nice guy “secretly” in love with Carol) Louis (Demetri Martin, Taking Woodstock) lets her do a temporary track for a trailer. It turns out that the studio likes her recording so well that they go with it, rather than bother with the planned final track by Gustav Werner. This ultimately puts her in contention for the honor of reintroducing the hallowed “In a world” phrase on the first trailer for a new “quadrilogy” (no one in the film ever heard the word “tetralogy”) of teen-lit movies.
I’m not about to try to detail the plot beyond this. It wouldn’t be possible in the space allowed, but, more to the point, much of the film’s appeal is in encountering its near overload of developments. (That said, I’ve watched the film twice and liked it even better on the second look.) It is a film where so many of the delights are in the details — even when it’s going exactly where you expect it to. (And let’s be honest, where you expect it to go is also where you want it to go.) It’s a generous film in which just about everyone is likable to one degree or another. Stylistically, it’s pretty straightforward, as comedies tend to be, but still refreshingly professional. Its great strengths are its quirky script, the performances and its casting. (Why isn’t Demetri Martin given good roles in more movies?) Plus, there’s the fact that it heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice on the filmmaking scene. That by itself makes it something you should see. Rated R for language including some sexual references.
Playing at Fine Arts Theatre