A touch of filth can do a world of good for charming actors and actresses. In fact, Drew Barrymore herself has given one of her best performances in R-rated fare like Going the Distance. Unfortunately, as great as that raunchy flick is, The Stand-In is the exact opposite. Primed to be a Barrymore comedy star vehicle with an edge, it instead is just a trying experience. Everyone involved is both trying too hard and not enough. The end result is one of the more disappointing films of the year. Even if Barrymore is game, the material is just fairly poor, overall, lacking an identity. Go figure, considering the story.
The Stand-In wants desperately to be an R-rated black comedy, but all of it is just limp. It’s closer to a sitcom than anything else, just with a potty mouth, along with ill-advised halfway nods at something more serious. Missed opportunities abound here. Having Drew Barrymore pulling double-duty should be a feather in this flick’s cap. Unfortunately, the narrative is cliched and derivative, the jokes are lame, and nothing that happens entertains in the slightest. Only watching Barrymore make a bit effort saves it from being one of the year’s worst. It’s a trying experience to sit through, but at least she’s decent in the parts.
Comedy star Candy Black (Barrymore) is an actress with a laundry list of problems. Jaded from years of slapstick, she’s a hassle on set, to say the least. On the flip-side, her stand-in Paula (also Barrymore) loves the life. What she lacks in talent, she makes up for in enthusiasm. Eventually, too many freak-outs result in the actress going into exile. When Candy’s problems grow to include tax evasion, a lengthy stint of community service and rehab is in the cards for her. Having been out of the public eye, and hoping to see if a phone relationship with Steve (Michael Zegen) results in something real, she gets an idea.
Candy’s idea is to recruit Paula to do the time for her. Having been out of sight for some time, she figures no one will know the difference. Paula agrees, provided that she can also get more stand-in work once Candy goes back to acting. The agreement is made, but considering how this is a comedy, of course things don’t go as planned. Soon, the swap results in Paula showing a bit of a manipulative side, with surprising results.
Drew Barrymore makes a big effort here, but the material is not worth her troubles. Supporting players like the aforementioned Michael Zegen, as well as Lena Dunham, Ellie Kemper, T.J. Miller, Andrew Rannells, and more have nothing to do. At least Barrymore gets two distinct characters to play. They’re poorly written and utterly generic, but she gives max effort, and that’s a small something. With something stronger to work with, this could have been a performance of note.
One of the bigger disappointments here is how little director Jamie Babbitt and screenwriter Sam Bain bring to this movie. Babbitt made the far superior But I’m a Cheerleader once upon a time, so she’s better than this. Bain created the comedy series Peep Show and co-wrote Four Lions, so this is lazy fare by comparison. They just spit out something with no teeth, even though they probably thought they were being edgy. Mainly, they just never believably make Paula turn from a dimwit to an evil genius, torpedoing the entire narrative. Babbitt and Bain have no sense of identity here. They can’t even lean in to the darker moments, making it a either a comedy with no laughs or a drama that has too many unfunny gags. Either way, it doesn’t work.
The Stand-In is a bad film. It just is. Another draft of the script and a stronger directorial touch would have given the movie more personality. That, in turn, would have made it stand out more. Then, it would have at least been mediocre, which is more than I can say for the final product here. I was hoping to like it, but that just wasn’t in the cards here.