A Prince and the Pauper tale with an acerbic edge, it would be easy to dismiss The Stand In as a run-of-the-mill dark comedy if it were not for the involvement of Drew Barrymore. Serving as executive producer as well as starring in it, the film is obviously a very personal statement for the actress as it deals with the double-edged sword that is stardom, something she knows a little bit about. Having achieved notoriety at a young age, Barrymore was in the unenviable position of growing up in the spotlight, her every mistake magnified, her troubles, including bouts with substance abuse, exaggerated. That she survived all she had to endure, let alone has had a successful film career is something of a miracle and a testament to the actress' strength and perseverance. As a result, it's hard not to look at the film as a cathartic for Barrymore, a primal scream of sorts in which she's finally able to vent about the stardom and all that came with it, that she never asked for.
Candy Black (Barrymore) is a woman who's been consumed by her own success. A phenomenally successful film comedienne, she's become disillusioned with her career as typecasting has hemmed her in professionally and without emotional support from any true friends, she's found solace in drugs. Following an on-set meltdown that leads to the injury of another actress, Black goes into seclusion, hiding away for five years. Time passes, she's forgotten and taxes go unpaid. A court order forces her to attend a 90-day rehab program, something she avoids by having her agent (T.J. Miller) track down her former stand-in Paula (Barrymore again), a wanna-be actress who's found living in her car. A large check dangled in front of her, she eagerly agrees to take Black's place at rehab.
Knowing that the public loves a comeback story, Black's agent suggests she make some public appearances. She wants nothing to do with this, but Paula is more than eager to take her place. An identity switcheroo takes place and the movie gets interesting. Unexpectedly, Candy's career takes off, movie offers come pouring in and media coverage increases. Like a pig in slop, Paula revels in this attention, finally becoming the star she's always wanted to be. But we all know what absolute power does and before you know it, her own diva instincts kick in and she starts to exhibit the kind of behavior that led to Candy's downfall.
You can tell that Barrymore is not so much having fun, but is intent on making a point in this dual role. In her exile, Candy finds love with a fellow recluse, Steve (Michael Segen), a writer with a hilarious secret and a passion for woodworking, which speaks to the importance of self-care and mirrors the actress' other endeavors which includes designing and overseeing her own clothing line. That Paula falls victim to the trappings of success is as pointed a criticism as you can get about the vagaries of stardom. And while Hollywood has a history of skewering itself, The Stand In has a sharper edge. The very nature of stardom has changed radically since the coming of social media and while finding a private moment may have been difficult for actors in the past, it's nearly impossible today unless, like Candy, you hole yourself away.
To be sure, the film could have been a bit funnier and more tightly constructed, however we rarely get as personal statement a statement from a star with Barrymore's history. With the subtext it contains, The Stand In proves to be worth seeing.