From the Shelf: The Stand In (2020)

By Christian DiMartino

We haven’t seen too much of Drew Barrymore lately. She had a business or something so she decided to focus on that instead of acting, but she started dipping her toes back in the water with Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet (which was honestly really good, but cancelled too soon). She also has a talk show that I haven’t seen, but have seen clips of (it needs a bit of work). She also makes her return to the big screen with The Stand In, and it’s a shame that her return isn’t on better terms.

The problem with The Stand In might not be plain to see at first, but eventually it will be. The problem being, it’s a film about a woman going through an identity crisis, and it’s a film that suffers from an identity crisis. It’s easy to get the vibe that this film started out as one, and then became two, and neither film works. The Stand In should’ve aimed to be a straightforward farce. On its own terms, it wouldn’t have been very funny, but it would’ve been a little better than the final product, which weirdly takes itself a little too seriously. Yet on the backburner is the film’s attempts to, once again, be funny, and just watching this film try to make up its mind proves to be a rather messy experience.

Barrymore plays Candy Black, a comedic actress known, mostly, for falling face-first into things. Seriously, that’s her schtick; that, and after lifting her head out of whatever she’s into, she has a catch-phrase, like “that’s just my luck” or something. These films of hers are beloved in America. Look, I know Americans are stupid, but give us some credit: we’re not THAT stupid. Anyways, the film opens with Candy having a complete meltdown on set, and I’ll admit seeing Barrymore act in such a way is interesting, but it isn’t necessarily funny. Cut to a few years later, and Black has vanished from the spotlight. Yet she knows she has to do something.

So she reaches out to her former stand-in, Paula (also played by Barrymore, sporting a goofy prosthetic nose), who has also suffered from Black’s career failure. Black makes her an offer: she has to pretend to be her- going to rehab, going on talk shows and trying to act as if she is recovered and turning over a new, less angry leaf. Paula agrees, and eventually finds herself getting a little too involved, stealing her dates and withholding information and what not.

This could, in theory, be a decent set up for a comedy. Trouble is, the movie can never seem to make up its mind. Take the two Barrymores, for example. Black comes across as mean and cold; we’re not given much room to root for her. Paula is chipper, so when she starts reaping the rewards, it makes sense. Then at the drop of a hat, Paula is depicted as a total nutbag, and we’re just all of a sudden supposed to like Black. With the shift in character motivation also comes the shift in tone. It begins as a comedy, then it forgets it’s a comedy, then it tries to keep up the momentum of a comedy, and it just doesn’t work.

It would be one thing if the film had a sense of humor, but alas, it doesn’t. I can only sense that the film was trying to be funny, and that’s how I know it is intended to be a comedy… half of the time. Basically, it’s just a movie that flails its arms until it’s finally over. Which is a shame, because Barrymore doesn’t show up to a whole lot these days, and this performance isn’t necessarily bad. She does what is required, and not poorly. However, like everyone else, it’s what she’s told to say and do that is beyond her control, and a big part of the reason why The Stand In doesn’t really take liftoff.

D+

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