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Stand-In, The

IndieDVD // PG // February 25, 2003
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted April 25, 2003 | E-mail the Author
The movie

What do you do when your own personal dream pulls you in a direction opposite to where your friends, your parents, even your girlfriend want you to go? That's the dilemma facing Brian Roberts (Robbie Bryan) in The Stand-In: to follow the clearly marked path toward law school, or head off into the wilderness of New York to pursue an acting career. This highly autobiographical film, based on writer and actor Robbie Bryan's own career, traces Brian's experiences as a struggling actor, including his interactions with "Mitchell K. Wolfe," a thinly disguised Michael J. Fox.

The advertising seems determined to shoehorn The Stand-In into the "romantic comedy" genre, but the film's strength lies more in its independent nature: it doesn't really fit into a cookie-cutter mold of either comedy or "romance." The setbacks, disappointments, and tragedies that pepper the story of The Stand-In are presented quite plainly, without sugar-coating; there's a real sense of the sacrifices that Brian is making, as well as a sense that it may very well not be worth the price. At the same time, though, there's a generally light tone that allows for a few humorous moments; to the film's credit, the humor is played as straight as the drama, and never milked for laughs.

One of the interesting aspects of The Stand-In is its glimpse at the movie industry from the point of view of the "little guy," the aspiring actor who works low-paying jobs just for the possibility of someday getting the magical "break" that will send him into the big time. But the odds are against any given actor making it big... the popularity of the success-against-all-odds story in film obscures the fact that for every struggling actor whose perseverance pays off, there are dozens or hundreds of others whose dreams fade with time and lack of success. In this area The Stand-In provides a realistic glimpse at the stark contrast between the lives of the extras and the stars. I enjoyed the realistic take on Brian's life that the film offers in general. For instance, finally we see an aspiring actor living in a believable New York studio apartment: it's a run-down, dingy and rather depressing place... not like the spacious loft apartments that somehow the characters in Hollywood films always seem to find, even when they're supposed to be starving artists.

The weakest part of The Stand-In, rather ironically, is its acting, which betrays the inexperience of its principal actors. Several smaller parts such as Brian's parents or his acting professor are handled by experienced older actors, but the major roles are held by actors whose performances are distinctly rough around the edges. Bryan and the other actors tend to be earnest but unconvincing; nonetheless, their enthusiasm is apparent and adds energy to the film.

Despite the problematic acting, The Stand-In ends up being quite engaging; I found myself entertained by the film overall. My conclusion is that Robbie Bryan probably made a smart move in creating The Stand-In: he's a significantly better writer than he is an actor. The Stand-In has its story moving along at a respectable pace, enough to develop the characters but never dragging out the scenes unnecessarily. Well, OK, we do get a few too many speeches from assorted characters about "follow your dream!", but not unforgivably so. And Bryan's imaginative and humorous rendition of the Grim Reaper is memorable, the more so because the character isn't overused. It will be worth keeping an eye out for Bryan's sophomore effort as a writer; there's potential here.



The Stand-In is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which has been pan-and-scanned from the original theatrical release's aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Shame on you, IndieDVD, for butchering the transfer in this way; at the minimum, both versions should have been included. And the cropping does show: there are a number of scenes that appear to be incorrectly framed, and the framing looks distinctly better in the widescreen bloopers and deleted scenes.

The film looks like it was filmed using primarily natural lighting, with the resulting effect that darker scenes are very dark and lacking in detail. Outdoor and brightly lit indoor scenes look much better, with more detail. Colors as a whole are muted, with the image occasionally having a slight brownish tinge. A few print flaws appear, but not many; on the whole, the image is not particularly clear, but it's reasonably clean.


The film's Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is strongly center-focused, with a generally flat sound that suggests a mono rather than a stereo track. In general, the track has a muffled, slightly harsh sound to it that's likely a result of the original recording, not of the DVD transfer. Fortunately, the dialogue is always sufficiently clear and understandable.


The main special feature is an audio commentary from writer/actor/producer Robbie Bryan and actors/producers Christie Botelho, Daniel Margotta, and Andrew Goffman. A fourteen-minute set of interviews with the cast is also included, along with five minutes of bloopers and four minutes of deleted scenes. A trailer for The Stand-In and a set of trailers for other IndieDVD releases rounds out the bonus material.

The scene selections are included in the special features menu, under the title "chapter points." Chapter points? A peculiar name, but they're functional.

Final thoughts

The Stand-In offers an uneven but entertaining look at Hollywood from the perspective of an aspiring actor; somewhat mislabeled as a "romantic comedy," it mixes realistic drama with a leavening of humor. Sadly, the DVD transfer is below average due to a pan-and-scan video transfer and a lackluster soundtrack, but it does have some worthwhile special features. I'd suggest The Stand-In as a decent rental.

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