On paper, this clever life-switch comedy should have worked: The actors, the director, the writer, and the concept are all proven successes. The problem is, it's just awful. Barrymore is captivating playing two characters so unlike her public persona, but those characters are horrible people. The humor is tasteless. And it's not funny. Not at all. (Is it too early to ask for a remake?)
Worse, The Stand In is mean-spirited to movie fans. Given that Barrymore is also the movie's producer, it feels a bit like she's venting at us, the viewers. Candy Black is a comedic actress who's known for humiliating pratfalls -- which has taken a toll on her psyche. She's a nasty piece of work, oddly resenting moviegoers for making her a box office success. When she and Paula encounter adoring fans who want to take a selfie, there's an air of, "poor actors, they're so put upon." For Candy, there's no moment of personal responsibility -- no realization that she could say no to those roles or that she could have chosen to take herself out of the film industry instead of being forced out. And, when Paula is thrilled to mingle with adoring fans, it's shown as a character flaw -- she's clamoring for the limelight, and, the movie suggests, there's shame in that. As this is a romantic comedy of sorts, you know a happy ending is coming. But when it does, it doesn't feel satisfying, it feels icky -- closer to the end of The Wolf of Wall Street, when you learn that the rich and famous never really pay the price. And maybe that's the point of making this movie: It's not a comedy for us. Candy Black makes it clear that she's tired of audiences laughing at her; perhaps this movie allows the filmmakers to laugh at us.