The Stand In

It's been five years since Drew Barrymore appeared in a movie. She compensates for that absence by playing two roles in The Stand In. Unsurprisingly, she's as appealing and gifted as ever. The film itself struggles to be worthy of her. It has ambition and, in spots, succeeds as a satire of what fame does to people. An uneven tone and a flat romantic subplot hold the picture back somewhat, although it is fun in its best moments.

Barrymore's first role is as Candy Black, a comedy star known for a string of popular movies in which she performs slapstick pratfalls. Behind the scenes, she's a coke-snorting diva. When a crew member posts video online of her chewing out a co-star (Ellie Kemper), Candy's career hits the skids. Around the same time, she's busted for tax evasion and, per court order, scheduled to be sent to rehab.

That brings us to Paula, also played by Barrymore. She's Candy's on-set stand-in. As is par for the course, they vaguely resemble each other. (Barrymore dons a wig and some latex prosthetics to differentiate the women.) Paula is none too happy that her career disappeared along with Candy's. She visits the star at home one night, hoping to convince her to try working again. Candy has a different idea: she'll pay Paula to do the rehab stint. To be a stand-in in real life, so to speak.

With that premise established, The Stand In becomes a dark comic twist on Single White Female. After returning home from rehab, Candy gives Paula permission to play her in front of the press, on television, and elsewhere. To everyone's surprise, the public likes the new “Candy” more than the old one. Paula slowly goes from mousy ingenue to entitled star. She finally has the opportunity to have the limelight all to herself.

The Stand In's jabs at celebrity are often very funny. Candy's movies, including a stoner comedy called Pippi Bongstocking, aren't too far removed from the works of someone like Adam Sandler or Kevin James. She makes the kind of lowbrow comedies that we know are often successful. Good gags also come from the movie's skewering of celebrity scandals and how they tend to vanish with a talk-show “apology tour.” Paula's transformation additionally satirizes how insecure people can get changed by the adulation that comes with fame. A nasty, narcissistic side gradually emerges.

As good as those sections are, a dumb romantic subplot continually intrudes. Candy has been having a virtual relationship with a guy named Steve (Michael Zegen) she met in an online group devoted to shaker furniture. They're supposed to meet face-to-face. Of course, Paula hijacks that, too. I'm not sure what writer Sam Bain's obsession with shaker furniture is. There's a lot of talk about it in this movie, though. It's such an odd subject, presumably designed to give Steve a quirky edge. There isn't anything funny about it, and the concept of Paula attempting to steal Candy's boyfriend is way less interesting than her efforts to steal Candy's career anyway.

The Candy/Paula/Steve drama takes up a sizable portion of The Stand In, especially in the third act, dragging the picture down. Remaining a satire about the two women – rather than veering into romantic and, with some of Paula's actions toward the end, borderline thriller territory -- would have been preferable, given how terrific Barrymore is in both roles. As Candy, she conveys the worn-out feeling that comes from growing disillusioned with show business; as Paula, she nails the moth-to-a-flame attraction some people have toward fame.

If nothing else, The Stand In at least gives the actress two characters she can sink her teeth into. And she does.

out of four

The Stand In is rated R for language throughout including sexual references, and for drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.