Sep 122013
 

Evanston RoundTable, Sept. 12, 2013

Call it “The Curse of Woody Allen.” Seemingly talented filmmakers are inspired to clone Allenesque characters whose neurotic, awkward, sometime loutish, usually semi-oblivious and often unfunny behavior populate numerous light comedies. Some of these movies work, but like many of those made by Mr. Allen himself, a lot don’t.

To the list of afflicted writer-directors – Albert Brooks, Rob Reiner, Nora Ephron, Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Harry Shearer and Miranda July to name a few – we can add a newcomer, Lake Bell, whose new comedy “In a World” features not one but several such muddled characters, struggling to find themselves, as well as sex, romance and a leg up in their work, which in this case is the world of voiceover actors.

Ms. Bell plays Carol, a vocal coach hoping to become the first major female voiceover artist. Her father, Sam, is a voiceover industry veteran (played by Fred Melamed, who is a voiceover industry veteran), but he is hardly encouraging. “Let’s face it,” he tells her. “The industry does not crave a female sound. I’m not being sexist, that’s just the truth.”

It is the truth, actually. If you think about the voiceovers you hear in movie previews, TV spots and video game trailers, they’re almost all male. Imagine the iconic opening line for so many teen fantasy movies and video games: “In a world where demons rule and decent people cower…” It’s got to be a guy, right?

Ms. Bell, who has appeared in numerous television roles and most recently in the horror movie, “Black Rock,” has set out to explore the voiceover business from a woman’s perspective.

But beyond the sometimes interesting glimpses into this strange subculture, the movie is a loose and weird mashup of soggy comedy, lighter-than-air romance, half-baked feminism, the usual clueless guy behavior and wacky, not-always-believable characters.

Still, there are some good scenes. One is when Carol and her wannabe boyfriend Louis let loose at a Karaoke bar with a great version of “Roxanne” and several other spot-on vocal imitations. But the best scene is the promo for “The Amazon Games Quadrilogy,” a sendup of all the inexplicably popular dungeon and dragon flicks, which stars Cameron Diaz as one of the “fierce mutated female Amazon warriors battling clone prehistoric cavemen.” Now that’s a picture worth seeing!

“In a World” is Ms. Bell’s debut as a writer, director and producer. It won the Best Screenplay award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and currently is scoring 90-plus percent in the popular Rotten Tomatoes film review site. These are facts I can account for solely due to her success recycling the Woody Allen nerd character, only as an attractive young woman. Woody should be proud.

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