‘The Stand In’: Drew Barrymore Embraces Dark Humor in Twisted Showbiz Comedy

In her latest film, Drew Barrymore satirizes the entertainment industry. “The Stand In” is a dark comedy that sees her pulling double duty as movie star Candy Black (real name Cathy Taylor) and her stand-in, Paula. After the original Candy voluntarily retreats from the spotlight, ambitious Paula finds herself taking her place, and it is not long before their once mutually-beneficial partnership morphs into something twisted.

For those not in the know, a stand-in is a person who “stands in” for an actor on a set while the crew goes about setting up the camera and lighting. Because a stand-in is expected to look somewhat like their actor, at least when it comes to size and coloring, many big names have someone that they work with regularly. Like most stand-ins, Paula really wants to be an actor, which is not far-fetched considering that Candy, a trained carpenter, started off as a crew member but got into being on the other side of the camera after she fell on her face on set one day and got a huge laugh. Since then, she’s made a whole career out of being a physical comedian, like a low-rent Melissa McCarthy, but without the charm. 

When Candy reaches the end of her rope while filming her latest lowbrow comedy, directed by Barbara Cox (Holland Taylor), kindly Paula, knowing that they’ll both lose a pay day if she’s fired, tries to smooth things over, but she can’t stop Candy from having a drug-fueled breakdown on set, one that is caught on camera and ends up going viral. To make matters worse, Candy accidentally blinds her co-star (Ellie Kemper) in one eye, and the fallout leads to her effectively being canceled.

Fast forward to five years later, Candy is a recluse in her Long Island mansion, and poor Paula is living in her car. Facing a court-ordered stint in rehab after failing to pay her tax (her lawyer argues that she was too drunk to remember), Candy recruits Paula to go in her place, and she agrees to on the condition that they do another movie when she’s out. Candy’s reason for not wanting to go to rehab has not so much to do with her being spoiled. She’s currently in a phone relationship with her perfect man, fellow carpenter Steve (Michael Zegen), and having to leave her cell and computer for weeks would probably put an end to their budding romance. Complicating things is the fact that Steve only knows her as Cathy, her true self.

After Paula gets out of rehab early for good behavior, she talks Candy into letting her take her place for a round of talk show appearances, an “apology tour.” After realizing that Candy has no intention of going back to work, Paula becomes ruthless, first sabotaging her romance with Steve, and eventually kicking her out of her own house and assuming her whole identity. Predictably, it’s not long before Paula discovers that the life of a movie star isn’t as glamorous as she thought it would be.

Director Jamie Babbit and writer Sam Bain do a fine job here of satirizing celebrity culture, especially when it comes to the apology tour and the ensuing comeback of “Candy.” Because Candy and Paula have such different personalities, it would seem that people would catch on, but New York and Hollywood eat up this newer, softer version of Candy. In a hilarious twist, Candy, after being locked out of her own home by Paula, confesses the whole scheme to her agent, Louis (T.J. Miller), only to have him tell her that he doesn’t care and that he prefers working with the nicer Candy. “It doesn’t matter that she’s fake,” he says. “This whole business is fake.” Babbit and Bain pose an interesting question about identity. As Candy Black was only ever a persona assumed by Cathy Taylor, does it really matter that another woman is now playing the role?

Babbit, whose feature debut was the classic LGBTQ satirical comedy “But I’m a Cheerleader,” has also directed dozens of television shows, including “Girls,” so she was able to enlist several names for hilarious cameos, including Andrew Rannells as a fellow rehab patient, and the likes of Lena Dunham and Meghan McCain as exaggerated versions of themselves. Zegen is also adorable and entertaining as Steve, who turns out to have a dark past of his own.

But “The Stand-In” is definitely Barrymore’s film, and she certainly shows different sides of herself as the foul-mouthed Candy and her borderline-psycho double. Some fans who like her best for her rom-coms and daytime talk show may be turned off by some of the dark and twisted humor here, but others will find themselves laughing at Candy and Paula’s trials and antics.

The Stand In” releases Dec. 11 on VOD and in select cities.