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Stand In, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Better and deeper than it looks."
4 stars

For about an hour, I was mystified by my response to 'The Stand In.' Was this not supposed to be a wacky identity-swap comedy?

Instead I could feel my stress level rising, and the movie certainly doesn’t look like a comedy — as lighted by cinematographer Eric Moynier, it has the burgundy tone of a somber legal drama. But then the movie’s scheme clicked into place. Please don’t go by the trailer or the poster: Despite some funny bits, The Stand In is more of a drama about those who make comedies, somewhat like Judd Apatow’s Funny People. If you go into it knowing this, it’ll take you far less time to plug into it. And it boasts two terrific performances by Drew Barrymore, as shambolic low-comedy movie star Candy Black and as Candy’s stand-in Paula.

Candy is a dumpster fire of a person who screams at everyone, and Paula is a sweet wallflower who loves being close to the star’s light and heat. So for a long time, our identification shifts to poor Paula, and when she switches places with Candy we expect her to blossom under the new attention. But that would be the typical Drew Barrymore rom-com, and that’s not what we have here. (To give you an idea, the script is by Sam Bain, who co-wrote Four Lions.) Five years after an on-set meltdown that cost a co-star (Ellie Kemper) her eye, Candy is being forced to go into rehab. Her plan is to get Paula to take her place in rehab so she can stay home, drink herself to sleep, and maybe pursue her true passion of woodworking. So Paula takes over, and ends up being a better Candy than Candy herself — Candy without the drugs, attitude and decibel level.

Candy is awful and Paula is one of us, so it’s jarring at first when we sense that their trading places goes deeper and somewhat darker. Paula, an aspiring actress, doesn’t just want Candy’s fame — she wants her life, and that extends to Steve (Michael Zegen), who’s into making Shaker furniture and who has struck up an online relationship with Candy. When we realize that Paula is about to help herself to Steve, she starts heading into areas where we really can’t follow her any more; once she drugs Candy’s smoothie so she can invite Steve over to Candy’s (now Paula’s) mansion, our allegiance, too, has changed places. This all is a good deal more interesting than the taffy-flavored comedy I was expecting, where gauche Paula has the storybook ending, while rotten Candy gets her comeuppance.

As Candy, who hasn’t bothered to get her hair done in a while, Barrymore has her own features and a sloppy red mane that recalls Susan Sarandon. As Paula, Barrymore sports a fake nose and blonde bangs that make her look more like Wendi McLendon-Covey’s stand-in. Candy’s puffier, vulnerable face draws us closer, while Paula’s sharper profile, done up with Hollywood makeup, comes to seem a bit hawk-like. Candy, with Barrymore’s considerable help, becomes a real and complex woman who goes by her given name Cathy Tyler; she seems visibly relieved not to have to deal with publicity any more (these days, camera phones make everyone paparazzi), and she throws herself gratefully into building bureaus from scratch. Paula, who has only ever wanted what Candy/Cathy has rejected, grows dislikable in a different style from Candy. Paula has false values, which Barrymore highlights by establishing that Paula gets less compassionate the farther along “Candy’s” apology tour she goes.

So the Barrymore we don’t expect to get the patented Barrymore rom-com happy ending gets it. That’s fair, and it gives us more to chew on. Barrymore, whose shingle Flower Films produced the movie — Jamie Babbit (But I’m a Cheerleader) directed — seems to be telling us that we wouldn’t want to be the media’s idea of Drew Barrymore. (Although I doubt she’s also telling us her true love is building ladderback chairs.) Candy is presented to us as almost a female Adam Sandler in Funny People, headlining terrible stoner comedies (Pippi Bongstocking) in which she falls face-first into cow flop and delivers her catch-phrase into the camera: “Hit me where it hurts!” Talk about self-hatred. That’s the life Paula wants until she gets it.

If you can ignore the brief irritation of T.J. Miller as Candy’s agent and Lena Dunham as more or less herself (though her character’s name is Lisa, ha-ha), "The Stand In" is more biting about what Hollywood and its consumers want from women than it’ll probably get credit for.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=34007&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/16/21 10:15:25
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USA
  11-Dec-2020 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
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Directed by
  Jamie Babbit

Written by
  Sam Bain

Cast
  Drew Barrymore
  Michael Zegen
  Holland Taylor
  Ellie Kemper
  T.J. Miller
  Lena Dunham
  Richard Kind



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