The Stand In: It Takes Drew, by David Bax
Does a movie still pass the Bechdel test if the two named women talking to each other about something other than a man are both played by the same actor? That’s mostly a theoretical question since there are, in fact, other women beside Drew Barrymore in the cast of The Stand In, including some greats like Holland Taylor and Ellie Kemper. But even if you only take the two Barrymores into consideration, what you have is the less common version of the Bechdel-passing movie in which the women in question absolutely fucking hate each other.
When the movie starts, Candy Black (Drew Barrymore) is Hollywood’s most successful female comedy star, having made untold millions by headlining multiple film franchises that all boil down to her falling flat on her face and then delivering her catchphrase. It’s made her rich but miserable, leading to a violent outburst on set, caught on video, that stops her career in its tracks. Candy’s not particularly upset about that turn of events but her longtime stand in, Paula (Barrymore but with a fake nose), has just lost a steady job and not one that paid her enough to go into a reclusive, Norma Desmond-esque retirement like Candy. An early reference to All About Eve provides a hint as to where this is all going.
In addition to Taylor and Kemper, The Stand In‘s cast includes Frances Ha‘s Michael Zegen, small but delightful appearances from Andrew Rannells and Michelle Buteau and a smattering of celebrities playing themselves (plus T.J. Miller and Lena Dunham, signifiers that the movie was shot a couple years ago). But ultimately this is The Barrymore Show. All other characters are secondary to Candy and Paula and none of them are as fleshed out or given such large emotional arcs.
Those expecting a comic romp will be surprised to find that The Stand In often quite melancholic, even maudlin. Neither Candy’s psychological distress nor Paula’s economic desperation are treated lightly or as simple joke fodder.
Then again, those expecting a comic romp will, in fact, get a comic romp. The Stand In, when not being hilariously foulmouthed, is often ridiculously stupid, in the best, most sublime sense of the word. Just the descriptions of Candy’s movies–like the one about a woman who gains superpowers from smoking week and, at one point, gets the munchies so bad she eats a whole house–are enough to make you want to see them.
That’s almost the opposite of the point, though. Barrymore didn’t have a hand in writing The Stand In (though she is a producer). But it seems like it could have come from a wish she or any other famous person made to a genie. It’s a feature length revenge fantasy, in which the adoring civilian finally finds out firsthand how exhausting and dehumanizing it is to be a celebrity.