THE WELL OF ADJECTIVES that would most accurately describe In a World...—quirky, offbeat, charming—has been poisoned since Zach Braff tossed Natalie Portman into it with an artisanal brick tied to her ankle. But actress Lake Bell's directorial debut is a throwback to a kinder, less-annoying era, when "quirkiness" didn't immediately translate to crocheted bicycle seat-warmers and repurposed mason jars.
In a World... digs down into the subculture of voice artists—the men (it's mostly men) who provide voiceovers for commercials and movie trailers. There's a power vacuum after the death of an industry heavy hitter, leaving Sam (Fred Melamed) and his chosen successor, Gustav (Ken Marino), to take on the biggest jobs. But Sam's daughter Carol (Bell) is a vocal coach who has her eye on bigger things, and when she lands a succession of high-profile voiceover gigs, she suddenly finds herself a contender to do the trailer for The Amazon Games, a four-film "quadrilogy" set in a world... where Amazon warriors battle prehistoric cavemen, a Hunger Games joke that could be funnier.
The film takes on too much: In addition to the professional maneuvering of Carol and her dad, there's the state of her sister's marriage, her dad's May/December relationship, and Carol's own romantic travails. All of these storylines would've benefited from more exploration, as would've the perfunctory girl-power ending about women taking control of their own voices.
But the supporting cast is excellent, including Bell's Childrens Hospital co-stars Ken Marino and Rob Corddry, as well as Tig Notaro and Demetri Martin, and Bell herself is a sturdy, likeable protagonist. The reason this film works is because In a World... evidences a genuine interest in the day-to-day work of a voiceover artist. The thing is the focus, rather than the character who is interested in the thing—it's the difference between superficial quirk, and acknowledging that the world we live in is a weird and interesting place.