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edge staff writer


Two Drews can't save ‘The Stand In’

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Hollywood has a long history of actors playing multiple roles in the same film. Sometimes, it is for the sake of mining the possibilities of two (or more) people resembling one another – mistaken identities or identity swaps or the like. Other times, it’s just because Eddie Murphy or Adam Sandler wants a wider runway to do whatever goofy stuff they want to do.

“The Stand In” is the latest entry into the genre. This time, it’s Drew Barrymore playing two different roles in a story about a once-famous actress and her relentlessly sunny stand in. Directed by Jamie Babbit from a screenplay by Sam Bain, it’s an effort to document the deleterious impact of fame on people, doing so by way of yet another riff on the Mark Twain classic “The Prince and the Pauper.”

Unfortunately, the film legitimately struggles to decide what sort of tone it wishes to strike. The vacillation from comedy to drama and back again is constant and almost always without warning, leaving viewers with narrative whiplash. Despite Barrymore’s willingness to go for it – and she does give it her all – that lack of consistency leaves you wondering just what the aim was. Of course, if the goal was a movie that can’t figure out if it’s “Bowfinger” or “Single White Female,” well … mission accomplished?

Barrymore is Candy Black, a pratfalling comedy star whose iconic catchphrase – “Hit me where it hurts!” – has turned her into a global phenomenon. Despite a reputation as difficult to work with (not to mention a significant substance abuse problem), she keeps getting hired because movies like “Pippi Bongstocking” and “BMX Blackout” are massive box office hits, thanks to her willingness to fall down and say the magic words.

Barrymore is ALSO Paula, Candy’s long-suffering stand-in. She is meek and eager to please, just happy to be a part of show business even as she is often forced to be the mediator between a drug-addled, raging Candy and whoever she happens to be aggrieved by at the moment.

Things begin to crumble when Candy has a meltdown on the set of her latest picture, a meltdown that results in significant injury to her co-star Jenna Jones (Ellie Kemper, “The Secret Life of Pets 2”). This leads to Candy stepping away from the business entirely, much to the chagrin of Paula, whose resemblance to Candy seems to be her only marketable skill.

Five years later, Candy is holed up in her crumbling mansion; in lieu of acting, she’s become devoted to Shaker furniture and the crafting thereof. She’s essentially a hermit, though she has established some communication with a fellow woodworking enthusiast via the internet. Due to some ill-explained shenanigans regarding income tax evasion, Candy is forced to go to rehab for some reason. Instead, she reaches out to Paula – who has been living in her car – and offers to pay her former stand in to go in her stead. She agrees, but only if Candy returns to acting so that Paula can go back to being a stand-in.

After the rehab stint, Paula moves in with Candy. At Paula’s behest, the two come to an agreement – Paula can make appearances as Candy and the two split the money. And since there’s a big market for apology tours, Paula starts hitting the circuit, appearing on talk shows and the like. But that isn’t enough. Paula insinuates herself into Candy’s relationship with Steve (Michael Zegan, TV’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), even going so far as to meet him in person despite Candy never doing so.

Slowly but surely, Paula takes over Candy’s life. She’s gotten a taste for fame and isn’t at all sure she wants to give it back. It’s up to Candy to wrest back control before it’s too late … if it isn’t already.

“The Stand In” wants to be a lot of things. It wants to be a Hollywood satire and a broad comedy and an exploration of identity. Unfortunately, it never manages to be any of those things. The satire is toothless and the jokes don’t work and the notions of identity are practically throwaway. Some moments are light and some are dark and there’s no rhyme or reason as to when or why. One gets the impression that if the filmmakers had chosen a lane and stayed in it, this could have been a decent movie. Instead, we get a misshapen mishmash that veers between dull, off-putting and nigh-nonsensical.

If you squint, you can see the bits where this movie could have worked. Candy Black’s body of work is a clear nod to Barrymore’s old pal Adam Sandler, from the titles of her films to her performances in them. More of that would have been welcome. Or maybe you focus on the darkness behind the seeming sunniness of Paula, lean into the psychodrama of the thing. That could have been something. Instead, we get flashes of both that result in a film that is neither. Throw in a take on Hollywood and celebrity culture that is whatever is even more shallow than surface-lever and you get … this.

To be clear, this is not Drew Barrymore’s fault. Maybe her agent’s, but not hers. She goes for it here, finding some solid ways to differentiate the two characters. As someone who has been through the Hollywood thresher, she understands this world and the sorts of people in it – and she does a fine job in crafting two of those people. Unfortunately, the characterizations are largely lost in the midst of the wooden dialogue and inconsistent plotting.

The supporting cast is far too talented to have this little to do. We have Zegan doing his best to hang in there. Kemper at least gets a bit of run, while top-tier talents like Holland Taylor and Andrew Rannells and Michelle Buteau are left to polish the assorted turds this script has given them. They’re all game, but there’s only so much they can do.

This movie didn’t work, despite the best efforts of Drew Barrymore. It’s an unfunny comedy and thrill-less thriller, a supposed satire with very little to say. All told you can probably feel free to sit “The Stand In” out.

[1 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 14 December 2020 10:25


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