by Hope Madden
Director Jamie Babbit specializes in comedies about unlikeable women. While the films invariably appeal to a fairly select taste, they are almost always appealing.
Not today. Today she’s made the longest 2-hour comedy in history. I felt myself age. I did not feel myself laugh.
The Stand In should be a by-the-numbers twist on All About Eve, an evil twin kind of comedy caper. According to its promotion, it’s “the story of a disaffected comedy actress and her ambitious stand-in trading places.”
Eventually, that’s what it is. Candy Black (Drew Barrymore, better than this) hates her fame, her life and her career. It’s driven her to bottles of pills and liquor and finally, into reclusion. That reclusion has driven her stand-in Paula (also Barrymore, still better than this) to unemployment and homelessness.
So eventually, they switch identities. “Eventually” being the key word because even though you can see where this is going from the film’s opening scene, The Stand In takes a full 45 minutes to get there.
That is to say that Act 1 is 45 minutes long. And once you’re there you realize you know where things will go from here, so why on earth did you wait this long to just settle into a brazenly predictable if inexplicably lengthy and surprisingly mean spirited trajectory?
It is not because you were so busy laughing you didn’t notice the time.
Sam Bain wrote 2010’s magnificent Four Lions, a smart, provocative political comedy that too few people saw. Babbit directed the ballsy cult comedy But I’m a Cheerleader. Barrymore is likable, talented and funny. What the hell went so miserably, soul crushingly wrong with this movie?!
A big part of the problem is a lack of commitment to tone. Both director and writer have experience with satire, although this film fails miserably at the wit or social commentary required. Moments of farce don’t land, the romantic comedy angle—Barrymore’s bread and butter—is maybe its weakest attempt.
Babbit’s film feels most at home as a belabored attempt at dark comedy—dark mainly because every character is loathsome, so at least that part is a success.
Comedy, though? God no.