As Carol Solomon, Lake Bell plays a vocal coach whose only work prospect at the moment is coaching actress Eva Longoria on a cockney accent for a movie she has to completely re-loop.
Longoria: Is that what you think you stupid slapper?It's a thankless task, made worse by the fact that Carol's dad Sam (Fred Melamed) believes it's the closest she'll come to following in his famed footsteps. Dad is a semi-retired movie trailer voice-over artist operating under the stage name Sam Sotto. His assertions of few opportunities for women in his line of work are constant and dispiriting. But Carol makes her own breaks, and is soon pursuing a career holy grail, to resurrect the cliché opener for many film previews, "In a world...", words that haven't been uttered over a trailer since the passing of the man most associated with the phrase, Don La Fontaine. The slight yet ingenious premise of In a World... allows Bell, who also wrote and directed, to craft a hilariously original comedy that feels like a Christopher Guest-directed mockumentary with an eccentric Annie Hall-type at its center.
Carol: "Fink." Switch out the "t-h" for an "f'."
Longoria: Is that what you fink you stupid slapper?
Indeed, In a World... opens with a mixture of actual and staged documentary footage that could have come from a Guest film, blurring the lines between the truly comic and the only accidentally so. Real interviews (and that memorable Geico ad) with La Fontaine play right next to phony conversations with Sotto and the new, blowhard protégé he’s been grooming, Gustav Warner (Ken Marino). Bell departs in a different direction than Guest would, however, only using the mockumentary elements to cleverly feed us exposition.
The rest of In a World... plays more like a Woody Allen romantic comedy, mining Carol’s complicated, dysfunctional relationships with Sam, her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins), potential love interest Gustav and secret admirer Louis (Demetri Martin) to fill out a story of a young woman trying to step out of her father’s shadow and finally come into her own. Adroit touches, like the license plate on Sam’s sports car–"ANUNC8"–are not only obvious puns but also inform who the characters are; in Sam’s case, a stubborn egotist in the midst of a middle-age crisis. In the voice-over industry Bell uncovers a fascinating, unexplored arena where egos battle in as petty a fashion as anywhere else. That the nascent writer-director also creates the perfect opportunity to showcase her previously unknown comedic talents is a delightful plus.
Also opening in Atlanta today is Things Never Said, a middling drama about a young slam poetess tentatively taking a stab at the big time. Shanola Hampton (Showtime's Shameless) plays Kalindra Stepney, a woman caught between her never-really-was basketball has-been husband Ronnie (Elimu Nelson) and Curtis Jackson (Omari Hardwick), a sensitive ex-con who has to pointlessly put up with a whole lot of ribbing because of his well-known moniker. Written and directed by first-timer Charles Murray, a TV writer, the movie never quite transcends the realm of basic cable melodrama. Overly clever in-jokes like the 50 Cent gag feel more like tired small-screen color meant to punch up a run-of-the-mill script... which this love triangle kind of is.
Though the strong supporting cast (Michael Beach, Tamala Jones, Dorian Missick, Charlayne Woodward, and Tom Wright) surrounds the leads, their presence isn't enough to overshadow the fact that Hardwick and Nelson seem to have been hired more for their sex appeal than their acting skills. It's not all bad, though. Things Never Said is at its most vibrant whenever the fierce Hampton is onscreen, particularly when she's tearing up the stage at a poetry slam. If more screen time were to have been devoted to her as a person rather than as an extension/representation of her men's insecurities Things Never Said might have had the makings of a potent character study.