THE STAND IN (2020)

December 11, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Few would understand the pressures of celebrity better than Drew Barrymore. She’s 45 years old and has been in front of the camera for 40 years. Most of us recall her as young Gertie in Spielberg’s ET: THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL (1982), and of course, her family tree spans much of Hollywood’s history – for instance, she’s the great-niece of Lionel Barrymore who played Mr. Potter in the Christmas classic, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. This time out, she takes on dual roles, but Drew’s fan base deserves fair warning … it’s not the fluffy, light-hearted comedy you might be expecting.

Director Jamie Babbit (known mostly for her TV work, including “Silicon Valley” and “Gilmore Girls”) and screenwriter Sam Bain (creator of “Peep Show”) explore career success and fulfillment in life, especially as it relates to balancing celebrity status and having a meaningful personal relationship. Ms. Barrymore plays Candy Black, a pratfall comedy actress who has made a career with her catchphrase, “Hit me where it hurts”. Simultaneously, and under pounds of makeup, Drew also plays Candy’s stand-in/double, Paula, who dreams of one day being an actual actor in her own right. Candy is a high-strung addict who barely functions, while Paula is a wallflower whose income is dependent on Candy’s career.

One day on the set, Candy throws a tantrum. It’s a complete meltdown that results in an injury to a fellow actor. Of course it’s caught on video and goes viral. Just like that, Candy’s career screeches to a halt, and so does Paula’s. We then flash forward 5 years, and Candy has isolated herself inside her mansion, taking up woodwork and anonymously bonding online with fellow woodworker Steve (Michael Zegan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”). After being charged with tax evasion, Candy is sentenced to a rehab facility and cons her trusty stand-in Paula to go in her place. Once released, Candy’s much nicer stand-in continues the gig on an “apology tour” where soon she is welcomed back into the industry’s good graces (as Candy), and slowly takes over Candy’s life, including a non-virtual meet up with Steve.

Supporting work is provided by TJ Miller, Holland Taylor, Elle Kemper, Andrew Rannells, and Lena Dunham (in what’s basically a quick cameo). Things get a bit convoluted with the old Candy, the new Candy, and Steve, the guy stuck in the middle – who has secrets of his own. Despite the relatively few laughs in what is billed as a comedy, there are some pointed observations and commentary on the industry and for those whose ambition is to be famous. Soul searching and ‘finding one’s true self’ is never easy, and often our dreams may not be in sync with who we are. Drew Barrymore does a nice job in both roles, but it’s likely her fans will be expecting a different style movie. It’s also likely the message here could have been better delivered by choosing either a comedic approach or a dramatic one, as the blend doesn’t quite work on either front.

AVAILABLE IN SELECT THEATERS, ON DEMAND, AND DIGITAL ON DECEMBER 11, 2020

watch the trailer

 


ADDICTED TO FRESNO (2015)

September 17, 2015

addicted to fresno Greetings again from the darkness. It’s not quite a unicorn, but it seems fair to call it a White Harbour Porpoise. Yes, it’s that rare to see a Comedy movie written by a woman, directed by a woman, starring women in a story about women. And it’s that rarity which makes it all the more disappointing when the finished product doesn’t match the expectation.

The cast is loaded with funny people, many of whom are best known for their work on TV. However, that’s not what makes this feel like an aimless TV sitcom straining too hard to make us laugh, often through cheap shock value. The movie leaves us with the feeling that writer Karey Dornetto (“Portlandia”) and director Jamie Babbit (But I’m a Cheerleader, “Gilmore Girls”) have spent too many hours studying the work of Judd Apatow, rather than letting their own voices speak. We are teased with glimpses, but mostly just left wanting.

On the bright side, Judy Greer finally gets a lead role after seemingly hundreds of support roles where she has often been the best thing about a movie. Yet somehow the filmmakers manage to dull Ms. Greer’s natural glow as she plays Shannon, a registered sex offender with little desire to break her sex addiction, or even become the least bit likeable. The very talented Natasha Lyonne plays Martha, Shannon’s younger lesbian sister who is her personality polar opposite, yet never can quite escape the “bad luck” following her around.

Martha decides to make Shannon’s recovery her mission in life, and secures her a job so they can work together as maids at a local motel. What follows is an accidental murder, a frantic attempt to dispose of the body, a mentally challenged housekeeping supervisor, multiple instances of sexual confusion, a sex shop hold-up, blackmailing pet cemetery owners, a profane rapping boy at his bar mitzvah, an inappropriate relationship with a therapist that breaks up a marriage, and a running gag with a chubby hotel guest in a Hawaiian shirt carrying a little dog. All of that zaniness leads to a disproportionately few number of laughs, although we do get a terrific Cousin It impersonation and an extremely rare (maybe a first ever?) Hammer-throw joke.

What’s lacking here, despite the best efforts of Ms. Greer and Ms. Lyonne, is any semblance of humanity or realism … necessities for comedy. We just never make any connection with the main characters. The supporting cast provides numerous diversions and feature the familiar faces of Ron Livingston (the therapist mentioned above), an underutilized Aubrey Plaza, Molly Shannon, the duo of Fred Armisen and Alison Tolman playing opportunistic small business owners, Jessica St Clair as one of the more emotional front desk clerks you’ll ever see, Jon Daly as one of the more unfortunate characters, and Malcolm Barrett as Shannon’s latest love interest/poet.

Of course, in keeping with the film’s title there is a never-ending stream of insults directed at the city of Fresno. If that much attention had been paid to the sister relationship and the forming of characters, perhaps the comedy would have been more effective. Instead, if you are all set on watching sisters working together in the clean-up business, the better recommendation would be Sunshine Cleaning.

watch the trailer: