Expecting a 90-minute comedy film to really plunge into the intricacies of an underdog industry is a sure fire way to come up disappointed, I have to admit in retrospect. But with the likes of Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, Ken Marino, and Rob Corddry on board — individuals I have come to revere for their mission to twist and expand the form of contemporary comedy — I felt it reasonable to look forward to a decidedly interesting movie about the universe of voiceover acting. In a World... is definitely interesting, though not as much as it could have been. Although the subculture central to the story is a fascinating one, In a World... seems bent on straying outside its confines and into more mainstream pastures. An understandable impulse, sure. But we were having a good time with the voiceover shtick.
Were writer/director/star Bell willing to forgo the "necessities" of a romantic subplot for her and Martin's character and a trouble-in-paradise B story that takes up far too much time without even a tenuous connection to the central plot, we'd have the movie we paid for. Without these anchors, we might have seen a few more of the twists and turns to the colorful, convoluted, and wicked industry that In a World... paints voiceover acting out to be. But I guess when you're making a movie about something as niche as voiceover, you need to stock in a few bits of budding romance and relationship dismays to keep the masses affixed.
It's not as though Bell's side stories aren't entertaining. Thanks to the more than capable supporting players, even the more meandering parts of the story are good for a laugh. But the meat is back in the studio, where Bell plays a struggling voiceover artist who is just breaking into trailer work thanks to a new demand for a female voice. Ah, here's where things get good — here's where we realize that the industry is one worth our attention: "Yes," the viewer thinks for the very first time in his or her life, "I guess I do only here dudes narrating movie previews." You do. And it's because of the baritone kingpins like Carol's (Bell) father Sam (Fred Melamed) and his protegee Gustav (Marino) who monopolize the workload and keep the whole game a "boy's club."
When the film delves into the sexism of the industry, it's interesting. When it bats around the tricks of the trade, it's fun. When it veers off to explore the marital rough patch faced by Carol's sister (Michaela Watkins) and brother-in-law (Corddry), it's a little perplexing. Why is this happening? What happened to the microphones and all the shop talk? Unfortunately, In a World... doesn't feel comfortable in its own skin, hoping to pad the blow of a quirky insider flick with romantic stuff with which everyone can feel familiar. But that's not the victory of this movie. Bell's directorial debut is far superior, in fact, when it stays in its own little world.
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This fall's upcoming comedic flick In A World… marks comic actress Lake Bell's directorial and writing debut. With a lot of work cut out for her, Bell showcases due promise in the first trailer for the upcoming film, which looks phenomenal.The movie follows Carol (Bell) as she aspires to put her dull vocal coaching days behind to become a voice over sensation. In the shadow of her father's fame as a movie-trailer voice over legacy, Carol rebels against the assertion that "the industry doesn't crave a female sound" by enthusiastically pursuing her dreams.
The latest trailer frames In A World…, which won the honor of Best Screenplay at 2013's Sundance Film Festival, as off-beat and zany, yet with all the appropriate grounding. Think Paul Giamatti's 2011 indie comedy win/Win, but with the added punch of the always center-of-the-converastion voice over industry.Not only does In A World... look to be a snarky film packed with comedic punches and one-liner jabs, but it also features a stellar cast including Dmitri Martin, Nick Offerman, Fred Melamed, a hilarious Eva Longoria, and Rob Corddry.
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There's probably still someone somewhere that would fall for one of Sacha Baron Cohen's weird and wooly scenarios but let's face the facts: the days when Ali G. could snag an interview with Pat Buchanan or Gore Vidal are long gone. 2009's Bruno definitely let some steam out of Borat's tires not to mention the ensuing lawsuits. But it's refreshing to see Cohen and his Borat/Bruno cohort director Larry Charles flex their muscles in the fictional universe of The Dictator a vehicle that doesn't skimp on their signature cringe-worthy humor.
The world of The Dictator gives them the leeway to create crazy spectacles — at one point Cohen's General Aladeen rides down Fifth Avenue on a camel surrounded by a giant motorcade. Having a plot helps too; although part of the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick is how the viewer is made culpable by proxy by our amusement and horror at how he tricks and torments people who aren't in on the joke The Dictator continues the self-reflexive satirical bite. We're certainly not off the hook. Aladeen says and does truly outrageous things but they're also exaggerations of the world we live in. It might be a stretch to call Sacha Baron Cohen the British Lenny Bruce or George Carlin in a face merkin but rest assured that no topic is off limits. If you are offended by jokes about abortion rape feminists body hair race religion politics STDs war crimes ethnic cleansing necrophilia and/or bestiality don't even bother. However if you like the kind of comedy that makes you hide your face in your hands feeling like each laugh is being pried from you against your will you're in business.
Cohen eats up the screen as both General Aladeen and his incredibly dumb body double; the latter prefers the intimate company of one of his goats to a human while the former is a fairly stupid ruthless dictator whose own people are so disloyal to him that they actually ignore his commands to execute people. (He really likes to execute people.) When he arrives in New York City to attend a summit at the UN his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has the two switched so he can easily manipulate the "General" into signing a treaty to make Wadiya a democracy and reap the financial benefits. Aladeen finds refuge with Zoe a hairy-pitted activist who thinks he's a political dissident and is excited to be able to give him a safe haven in her touchy-feely Brooklyn grocery co-op. Instead of being typecast as another blonde dummy Anna Faris is finally given room to play as the wide-eyed naïf who takes Aladeen's very serious statements as jokes or simple miscommunications. She's a great foil to Baron Cohen who is easily half a foot taller than she is and has a wolfish grin. Their banter is often the most politically incorrect of the bunch but also the funniest.
Alas the plot. It's a bare bones situation to get a very broad character from A to B. Aladeen is obviously an outlandish mishmash of modern dictators; he spouts racist misogynist rhetoric endlessly and after a while...yeah we get it. However like all of Sacha Baron Cohen's humor The Dictator also takes a direct shot at Western countries (specifically the United States) which would be all fine and dandy if he didn't wedge an expository speech in about it as well. The problem with making a traditional narrative movie is that with some exceptions you've got to play within the guidelines. The Dictator isn't trying to do anything fancy; all it needs a few big beats and a neat ending to wrap it all up. It doesn't quite manage to tie it all together in a way that makes The Dictator more than an hour and a half or so of laughing and cringing.
Besides Faris and Kingsley there are a number of cameos by a very wide variety of comics and actors. Megan Fox plays herself Kevin Corrigan appears as a creepy dude who works at the co-op John C. Reilly is a racist security guard and Fred Armisen runs an anti-Aladeen café in New York's Little Wadiya district. The very funny Jason Mantzoukas has a large role as Nadal the former head of rocket science who was supposedly executed for not making Aladeen's nuclear warhead pointy. It's a good ensemble and hopefully Sacha Baron Cohen's next feature-length film will build on The Dictator's weaknesses.