IN A WORLD...
(US - 2013)
Don LaFontaine (Bell opens the film with a nice tribute to that great "In a world..." voice). She lives with Sam, a widower who promptly kicks her out so his one-year-younger-than-Carol girlfriend Jamie (Alexandra Holden) can move in. While working with Longoria in the studio where the actress has to re-loop her entire performance, Carol narrates a trailer as a goof, and she nails it so well that she finds herself in the running to voice the trailer for the Cameron Diaz blockbuster "AMAZON GAMES quadrilogy," which puts her in conflict with her dad and Gustav (Ken Marino), the other main voice in the trailer business.
Movie buffs will appreciate the occasional glimpses at the inner workings of the voiceover industry, but too much of IN A WORLD... is devoted to standard-issue rom-com stuff, with Carol falling for sound mixer Louis (Demetri Martin) and trying to patch things up between her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) and her husband Moe (Rob Corddry) when concierge Dani fools around with AMAZON GAMES director and hotel guest Terence Pouncer (Jason O'Mara), plus some easy jabs at THE HUNGER GAMES and L.A. women with "sexy baby voices" who talk like every sentence ends with a question mark? Bell and Watkins have a nice sibling chemistry, Holden's Jamie is unpredictably handled in the way she legitimately loves Sam and is not just drawn by his fame, and Melamud has a voice that was made for trailers (Marino, however, does not), but the whole "female empowerment" message that Bell is going for is too heavy-handed by the end, and she can't resist the indie hipster crutch of using '70s and '80s hits ironically (Dani and Moe reconcile to the tune of Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line," and Carol and Louis' night out is a montage set to Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," for some reason). In the end, there's a few chuckles for film dorks, but that's ultimately the biggest problem. Bell got all of her cult comedy friends together (there's also supporting turns by Nick Offerman, Stephanie Allynne, Tig Notaro, and Jeff Garlin, plus Geena Davis as a ballbusting movie exec), and it grossed $3 million on 144 screens against a $1 million budget, but its appeal is too narrow. It feels like the kind of movie Tom Dicillo made in the '90s that nobody outside the industry gave a shit about. Bell is a charming and immensely likable actress, but IN A WORLD... too often comes off like little more than a rejected IFC pilot. (R, 93 mins)
(US/UK - 2013)
Watts, Dillon, and the film are moving along just fine until the pregnancy, when Collyer just starts piling on one misfortune after another in a way that crosses the line from realism into deck-stacking misery porn. The problems with her boss exist only to make the story take a more miserable turn. It's a corporate chain--as evidenced by a company HR rep visiting to administer drug tests--so there's no reason Melissa can't tell someone higher-up that she's being sexually harassed by her boss ("Are those pants wet because of me?" he asks Melissa after she walks to work in the rain), and his other managerial practices are flat-out abusive and intimidating. And given Justin's behavior, there's no valid reason for the restraining order to be lifted other than Collyer needs him to show up at Sunlight Jr to cause dramatic conflict and offer Melissa some painkillers. And later, when they're kicked out of the motel and have to move in with her alcoholic mother (Tess Harper) and her brood of unruly foster kids that she lets run wild so she can keep the foster care checks coming in, there's not only Richie's ramped-up boozing and the foster kids being bitten by bedbugs, but also the mom's asshole landlord--who else?--JUSTIN! To Collyer's credit, she doesn't turn Melissa and Richie into martyrs or succumb to white trash caricaturing, and she does a commendable job of capturing the atmosphere of crippling economic depression, shooting in locations that look like a desolate wasteland of homeless people, closed-down strip malls with weeds growing through the concrete, pawn shops, flea markets, and dive bars. Watts and Dillon are excellent until the plot developments start threatening to turn the characters into cardboard cutouts; Watts perseveres but Dillon can't do much with the clichéd arc undergone by Richie. SUNLIGHT JR sometimes falls victim to ham-fisted melodrama, but there's a lot of positives to be found with the performances, a very Ry Cooder-ish score by J. Mascis, and Collyer's compassionate depiction of a struggling underclass. (Unrated, 95 mins)