The Stand In [Video Review]
Double and Nothing: Babbit Blunders on Binary Barrymore
Jamie Babbit doubles down on Drew Barrymore for her sixth feature, The Stand In, a somewhat standard riff on two unrelated lookalikes trading places in a superficial simulacrum of celebrity. It’s been five years since Babbit’s last feature, 2015’s Addicted to Fresno, and the director’s indie aesthetics have often been part of her oeuvre’s ragtag charm, from her blazing inception with 1999’s But I’m a Cheerleader and on to various playful items, like the pulp genre enjoyments of The Quiet (2005) and even 2012’s Breaking the Girls.
Having directed a head spinning number of different television episodes for a diverse array of notable television series, it’s a pleasure to find Babbit unveil a new offering, even if the almost alarming amount of cameo appearances in her latest don’t add up to much behind her lead star’s dual turns as two rather unlikeable and unappealing entertainers.
Candy Black (Barrymore) is the physical comedienne of her generation, a Hollywood celebrity who also happens to have a severe substance abuse addiction and anger management problem. While on set of her latest film, she accidentally blinds her co-star (Ellie Kemper) during a drug fueled temper tantrum, filmed by one of the crew members. Eviscerated online, Black retreats into her palatial estate for the next five years, and while doing so, fails to file her income taxes. Citing her alcoholism as an excuse, she’s ordered to attend rehab for three months. But the reclusive Candy has rediscovered her passion for carpentry while in isolation and fallen in love with a man (Michael Zegen) who holds the same interests online, though neither has seen each other. If she is forced into rehab, she fears he will disappear forever. Instead, she contacts her old stand-in, Paula (also Barrymore), now living in her car, to pose as Candy and serve the three months. In exchange, Candy will allow Paula to continue to pretend to be her so she can split the profits from booking fees and what becomes a full-fledged apology tour following rehab. But Paula becomes obsessed with the attention being Candy brings, and soon it’s evident her manipulations of the retired comedy persona are spinning out of control.
By the time the credits roll, The Stand In only really asserts itself as something which would have benefitted from being trimmed down into a situational parody for an episodic television show. Written by Sam Bain, who scripted one of the most notable satires of the last decade with the 2010 Chris Morris film Four Lions, this broadfaced scenario of life in and outside of the limelight ends up feeling like the missed opportunities of his treatment for 2019’s Corporate Animals, another film with an intriguing cast which never pulls together as it promises.
Barrymore, also making her first film appearance since 2015’s Miss You Already (she’s developed “The Drew Barrymore Show” and shot several seasons of “The Santa Clarita Diet” instead), is clearly doing overtime as Candy and Paula (and with a third persona thrown in to make this feel more meta), and Babbit does a fine job in differentiating the looks of both women (as Paula, Barrymore resembles Olivia de Havilland on the cusp of matronhood). However, neither ends up being a likeable or even logical persona, and the sympathetic notes upon which Paula is introduced evaporate quickly. Neither are we treated to a real make-over for Barrymore, who is painted into a frumpy corner for both characters.
The scenario is begging for the juxtaposition Eddie Murphy perfected in The Nutty Professor (1996) remake (not to mention Frank Oz’s Bowfinger in 1999) or Kevin Kline in Dave (1993). Try as she might, we’re never meant to care for either Barrymore persona, which makes the barrage of cameos and talk-show host montages feel egregiously empty. At one point, the film decides to drive home the underlying inspiration, Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950), in an off-the-cuff reference to the refurbished Candy Black all aglow like Marilyn Monroe in the Bette Davis classic—but while the leading ladies from the referenced footnote are also arguably unlikeable, Davis and Anne Baxter fashioned a compelling statement about women in the performing arts whereas The Stand In ends up feeling like some of the empty-headed Melissa McCarthy-style physicality primed comedies of nonsensicality it’s paying homage to.
A cascade of familiar faces, from Holland Taylor, Ellie Kemper, Michelle Buteau, Lena Dunham, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Barnett and, yes, even the woebegone T.J. Miller feel as if they’re underutilized in this lukewarm treatment of celebrity catfishing (not to mention Babbit’s enjoyable selected soundtrack is several cuts above the visual narrative it’s stapled to). Considering the budget, The Stand In is a film which seems to be cashing in on a lot of favors. At the same time, it’s a reminder of what Babbit can scrabble together with whatever resources are at her fingertips, and even though none of this makes any damn sense, here’s to a steppingstone which will hopefully birth a newer, edgier project.