I love how In A World… is structured like a typical romantic comedy/ family comedy, but deliberately corrects all of the pitfalls of the genre. It isn’t sentimental, the characters feel like real people instead of ‘types,’ and the main character is allowed to be a complicated, flawed woman who makes some mistakes, but ultimately still reaches her goals (though perhaps not in the way she thought).
Writer/director/star Lake Bell is a Hollywood veteran by now, having had supporting parts in movies like No Strings Attached (dumped by Ashton Kutcher for Natalie Portman) and It’s Complicated (dumped by Alec Baldwin for Meryl Streep), and regular roles on The Practice, Boston Legal, and the best friend on Miss Match.
It seems to be the trend lately that for an actress to find a role of satisfying complexity, she needs to create it herself. See Leah Dunham in Girls, Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, and Tina Fey in general. Count In a World… as an addition to these success stories.
Lake Bell’s Carol is refreshingly unfashionable, still dressing in clothes from the nineties, including overalls, and her hair is usually unkempt. She looks nice for one event, but then resumes cycling through her three or four outfits. She is a voice-over artist, after all, so why should she need to look chic? Her ambition level is also more realistic than is usual for a romantic comedy, in a land where all women are high powered leaders in their field, yet seem to spend an awful lot of time mooning over some guy. Carol in not ambitious, but once she gets a break, she leverages that into more work, and ultimately, the job she really wants. Her romantic aspirations are given a healthy amount of attention, and don’t take over the film. And best of all, she isn’t “punished” for sleeping with a guy who’s kind of a jerk. Even the fact that the “jerk” in question is actually a somewhat nuanced character is a breath of fresh air compared to the unrealistically villainous characters we’re often served in romcoms.
Lake Bell succeeds not only in creating a compelling role for herself, but also has written a more interesting storyline for the sister character (also sometimes ‘the best friend’ in romcoms). Her sister Dani has a good job as a hotel concierge, and is married to a great guy played by Rob Corddry. She also makes a mistake that almost ends her marriage through circumstances that are painfully common in real life, but ultimately her love for her husband comes through.
I also appreciated the acknowledgement by Geena Davis’ character that what is best for inspiring the next generation is not always casting “the best,” but making the choice that will have the best impact.
As someone who is a sucker for romantic comedies, but if often appalled at the way “romance” is depicted in more mainstream efforts, I highly recommend this. It gives me hope for the future.