Producers: Tom McNulty, Caddy Vanasirikul, Brian O’Shea and Chris Miller   Director: Jamie Babbit   Screenplay: Sam Bain   Cast: Drew Barrymore, Michael Zegen, T.J. Miller, Holland Taylor, Michelle Buteau, Andrew Rannells, Ellie Kemper and Richard Kind   Distributor: Saban Films

Grade: C

A good movie is struggling to work its way out of the idea behind “The Stand In,” but it doesn’t manage to emerge.  What we get instead is a hapless mixture of drama and farce that wastes some good performances, including two by Drew Barrymore.

She plays, in the first instance, Candy Black, a slapstick screen comedienne—think of her as a female version of somebody like Chris Farley or Kevin James, or even Jerry Lewis in his solo days—with a catch phrase all her own.  In an opening montage, she’s shown taking similar pratfalls in clips from a series of movies and, after each of them, repeating “Hit me where it hurts!”  One must take it on faith that anybody would find this funny. 

Despite her success, Candy is terribly unhappy, and has taken to heavy drug use and berating everyone around her.  That includes her do-anything-for-a-buck agent Louis (T, J. Miller) and her co-workers, including her mousy understudy Jane (Barrymore again), an aspiring actress who tries in her whiny way to calm the waters. 

Unfortunately on her current shoot Candy not only infuriates veteran director Barbara Cox (Holland Taylor) with her antics but manages to assault—accidentally of course—co-star Jenna Jones (Ellie Kemper).  The tirade that follows is filmed by crew member and goes viral, of course, ruining her already shaky career—and poor Paula’s with it. 

Five years later Candy is a washed-up recluse in her mansion, given over to woodworking of all things, and has been convicted of income-tax evasion.  A judge orders her to go into rehab, which would jeopardize an on-line romance she’s developed with a fellow woodworking enthusiast named Steve (Michael Zegen).  And so she decides to hire Paula, who’s been reduced to living in her car, to take her place in rehab.  Paula’s price is that after the stint is over, Candy will resume acting again and take her on as her stand-in.

The twist is that Paula-as-Candy proves so convincingly transformed by treatment that she’s released early as a heroine of recovery, the actress’ popularity restored.  But Candy refuses to keep her part of the bargain, and eventually Paula becomes so pleased in posing as her that she takes over the onetime star’s life, even taking up with Steve, who has some secrets of his own.  Candy is now treated as a crazed pretender, tossed out of her mansion and forced onto the streets to seek solace from anyone who used to be her friend—or at least pretended to be.

Paula’s imposture will be threatened by events, of course, not least an offer to “Candy” to resume her career.  But though reality will be restored to some degree, the change of roles the plot’s developed won’t be completely reversed. 

One can envisage how the basic premise of “The Stand In” could have been molded into a biting comedy-drama, but the finished project works as neither.  At one point in her career-killing screed Candy fumes, “None of this is f****** funny!” and what was intended as a throwaway line gradually becomes a prescient observation—the laughs from then on are few and far between.  Nor do the movie’s darker aspects ever take on a tragic, or even credible, dimension, though Barrymore’s performance as bedraggled Candy carries some of the bite that Melissa McCarthy (mentioned as a possible replacement for the star) brought to “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”  Barrymore’s Paula is less impressive, though she does manage to add a bit of venom to the mostly fluffy.  The supporting cast is okay, though only Miller’s ostentatiously laid-back style makes much of an impression.           

The technical contributions—Eric Moynier’s cinematography, Lisa Myers’ production design, Patrick Colman’s editing—are all fine, as is Daniel Wohl’s.  The fault lies in Sam Bain’s misguided script, and direction from Jamie Babbit that fails to tame its jarring inconsistencies of tone.  “The Stand In” is a missed opportunity.