This review was originally published on January 21, 2013 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Who knew the voice-over business was so cutthroat? Carol (Lake Bell) is a young voice-over wannabe meandering through life who finds herself uprooted when her voice-over superstar dad (Fred Melamed) kicks her out so he can shack up with his younger girlfriend. Now that she's stuck living with her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and Dani's husband Moe (Rob Corddry), Carol is more determined than ever to make herself heard.
Carol lands a few big gigs with the help of her friend Louis (Demetri Martin), much to the chagrin of fellow voice-over actor Gustav (Ken Marino). When a huge opportunity presents itself, it's every man and woman for themselves in an all-out race for vocal immortality.
Though the plot may sound a bit zany, it's entirely anchored by a strong cast and outstanding script. Sporting some of the funniest and most naturalistic dialogue in years, the film avoids falling into cliches or quirkiness, instead presenting characters that are fully developed and instantly likable. Writer, director and star Lake Bell is especially great; she succeeds largely because she isn't afraid to look bad or give the funniest lines to other characters, and she keeps the plot moving along at a rapid clip without any time for the audience to get bored. Playing along with and making fun of genre conventions, Bell manages to celebrate the industry while still having a laugh at various aspects of it.
"In a World..." has an immensely talented cast, including Tig Notaro and Nick Offerman in small roles and cameos from Geena Davis, Eva Longoria and Cameron Diaz. Demetri Martin, who is usually somewhat airy and awkward in his stand-up, is wonderfully restrained here as an audio producer with a crush on Carol, and Ken Marino is in fine form as the overly confident blockhead Gustav. As the superstar voice and Carol's dad, Fred Melamed is grandiose, larger than life and a wonderful pseudo-villain at times.
Even among so many outstanding performances, it's still easy to peg Bell as the best among them. Carol is a hilariously strange woman who truly cares about her family and hasn't quite got it together; it'd be too easy to paint her as a slightly more grown-up version of a Lena Dunham type, but what Bell is capturing here is the next stages of what Dunham has given us. Carol is good at what she does, if perhaps a bit lacking in drive, and she's able to succeed with just a little help. With such an intimate understanding of her own dialogue and intentions, she's a joy to watch and a capable sounding board for other characters.
The relationships are what anchor the film, whether it's between father and daughter, sister and sister or different men and women. The casual ways in which couples tend to take each other for granted and the thrill and awkward uncertainty of new love are all on display here. Bell writes equally well for both men and women, exploring the differences between the sexes with brilliant humor and sharp insight.
The mechanics of the film are wonderfully done, from the costumes to the production design. Shot in and around Los Angeles, the film never dwells on this fact, instead allowing the city to play background and supporting character. There's no overly specific winking nods, no overt tongue-in-cheek smugness; instead, the characters are too busy existing in the world to waste time trying to convince us of how real they are.
"In a World…" is pretty much a perfect movie, chock full of fun, endless laughter, realistic love and that all-important magical movie ingredient — originality.