Lake Bell is one smart cookie. The tall, gorgeous actress is best known for sexy-funny supporting roles in comedies like “What Happens in Vegas” and “It’s Complicated.” But she has much more on the ball than even those spirited turns suggest. And she’s finally given herself the ideal canvas to prove it in “In a World . . . , ” her smart, enjoyable writing-directing debut in which she finally, deservedly stars.
Bell plays Carol, a struggling voiceover artist whose career is stymied by a rigid old-boys’ network in the studio and at home by her own overbearing father, Sam (Fred Melamed), a famous movie-trailer narrator and contemporary of the late, great Don LaFontaine in his booming, baritone timbre. The real-life voiceover legend LaFontaine, who died in 2008, is the one who made the phrase “In a world” his own; in Bell’s nervy, fizzily paced story, a studio decides to dust off those three little words for its upcoming “quadrilogy” of “Hunger Games”-like action dramas about a tribe of heroic Amazonian women vanquishing mutant male savages.
Carol unwittingly becomes part of the race for that coveted gig, competing with her dad and the reigning king of plummy tones, a wealthy, arrogant cock of the walk named Gustav — played by the reliably amusing Ken Marino, who joins an all-star comedic ensemble including Rob Corddry, Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins and Nick Offerman.
With talent like that, it’s no surprise that “In a World . . .” is funny. Bell displays an impressive knack for capturing the goofy voiceover subculture (her character disparages industry parties, which usually consist of “the voice of Cialis hitting on the Virgin Airlines message-on-hold girl”).
Christopher Guest-like anthro-comedy would be entertaining enough, but Bell also expertly skewers sexism, Hollywood shallowness, anti-Hollywood snobbiness and that thing that so many young women are doing now where they talk like Minnie Mouse on helium and end every sentence with a question mark?
“We’re better than that,” Carol tells one such baby-doll-in-heels. She’s right, just as she’s right that the fact that the voice we assume as omniscient carries political baggage.
In another sharply observed scene, an ambiguous encounter with a female senior executive aptly captures the ambiguous inter-generational tension so many young women experience with their pioneering older sisters.
“In a World . . .” is a lot of fun, reflecting Bell’s own obvious love of piquant paradox and the music of the spoken word. But it also has a sharply observant streak that makes it as nourishing as it is endearingly nutty.
R. At area theaters. Contains profanity, including sexual references. 93 minutes.