The facility for ensemble comedy that Lake Bell showed with her writing/directing debut In a World … gets lost as she makes the transition from the entertainment industry to theoretically everyday people. The story revolves around three couples participating in a documentary made by controversial filmmaker Vivian Prudeck (Dolly Wells) advocating for fixed-term rather than life-long marriage: financially-strapped married couple Alice (Bell) and Noah (Ed Helms); Alice’s hippie sister (Amber Heard) and her open-relationship partner (Wyatt Cenac); and perpetually bickering Cybill (Mary Steenburgen) and Harvey (Paul Reiser). Bell handles some of her physical comedy effectively, including a wonderfully awkward bit involving a “happy endings” massage parlor. But Vivian is too broad a stereotype at the center, and it feels almost too obvious that her attempt to prove her thesis by dividing her subjects will instead end up pulling them together. Despite some slick punch lines, the individual stories too rarely feel like they’re pulling in the same direction, making the Big Event that ultimately connects them seem desperate and artificial. The reality of marriage remains elusive between Vivian’s cynicism and Bell’s romanticism.
Director: Lake Bell
Producer: Lake Bell, Jett Steiger, Miranda Bailey, Amanda Marshall, Jason Beck and Andy Bohn
Cast: Lake Bell, Ed Helms, Mary Steenburgen, Paul Reiser, Dolly Wells, Amber Heard, Connie Shin, Wyatt Cenac, Chace Crawford, Chauntae Pink and Rae Gray