Drew Barrymore fans haven't exactly been starved for content lately. Her cheery, fully unhinged new daytime talk show has provided a host of gif-able moments. But, it is significant that The Stand In, out now on VOD, is the first feature film she has appeared in 5 years (since the underrated Miss You Already). And I wish I could report that her return to the big screen (well, not big at the moment, but you know what I mean) is a triumph, but The Stand In is a deeply flawed movie, in spite of a game and spirited lead actress.
Barrymore has a dual role in the film, a satire of celebrity culture. She plays Candy Black, an ex-movie star whose career was derailed by a volatile on-set tirade, and Paula, Candy's wacky stand in. The plot kicks in when Candy has Paula swap places with her ahead of her court-mandated rehab stay, and Paula takes a liking to the limelight and plots to steal Candy's life. Those are the basics, it's actually a lot more complicated than that, which gets at one of the main problems with the film - the screenplay is messy and overwritten.
That the film is not a total disaster is largely thanks to director Jamie Babbit, whose touch, while not really light, is light enough to make the proceedings passably enjoyable. The film is tonally confused (it ought to be a thriller with a weird sense of humor instead of a black comedy with serious moments), but it zips along fast enough that you likely won't regret spending time watching it.
Barrymore, for her part, commits to her roles with a gusto she usually reserves for her attempts at awards fare. She fully transforms herself to make Candy and Paula seem like distinct characters, which they totally do. She even dons a prosthetic nose! The only other times I can recall her altering her voice this much were Riding In Cars with Boys and Grey Gardens. So, it's nice to losing herself so much in a comedy. She's a comedy lover (which is why she's always been so good on SNL), but most of her past film comedies have been talky rom-coms. She must have relished getting to play Candy as a pratfalling physical comedian. Unfortunately, The Stand In doesn't spend all that much time on movie sets, preferring to focus on the bizarre psychological relationship drama.
While Barrymore does have a few humorous moments, especially as Paula, the film ultimately is not very funny. It's a shame because Barrymore and Babbit seem like a good pairing and there are good ideas about the vapidity of celebrity culture hidden somewhere in the screenplay. It's compelling to think about a talented person uninterested in fame handing over their career to a talentless lookalike, who coasts on media appearances and taking selfies with fans. But the film never really hones in on that as a premise.
While The Stand In disappoints as a film, it succeeds in giving a beloved movie star a chance (or two chances) to shine.