Movie Review: ‘The Switch’

08.19.10 7 years ago


The Summer of 2010 is shaping up as the spermiest summer since Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz tried and failed to launch a new extra-firm hair-stylizing craze in “There’s Something About Mary.” 
Of course, in that blockbuster, male reproductive fluids were callously wasted as little more than a tonsorial toss-off. 
In the Summer of 2010, we’re reminded of that classic Monty Python lyric asserting that every sperm is sacred and, more than that, properly disseminated sperm can serve as nothing less than a minimal responsibility pathway to maturity for otherwise irresponsible man-children.
I’m aware that normally we’d require three sperm donor semi-comedies to constitute a full-on trend, but I saw “The Switch” on a Monday after finally catching up on “The Kids Are All Right” on Sunday and if I weren’t too sleepy from a last-minute set visit in a foreign country, I’d make a Sasha Grey joke as a bridging punchline between those two films.
This just isn’t great timing for “The Switch,” because “The Kids Are All Right” is one of the year’s best reviewed movies (I didn’t love it, but that’d be a different blog post), while this Jennifer Aniston/Jason Bateman vehicle is, if I’m feeling astoundingly generous, a slight and forgettable diversion best held for viewing on an airplane or pay cable, years in the future.
[More on “The Switch” after the break…]
It’s hard to look at the people responsible for “The Switch” and get any sense for the tone and execution to come. Based (very loosely at times)  on the Jeffrey Eugenides short story “The Baster,” adapted by Allan Loeb (“Things We Lost in the Fire”) and directed by the team behind “Blades of Glory” (Josh Gordon and Will Speck), “The Switch” is a frittata of indie naval-gazing, low-brow comedy and sitcom-y structure and execution.
Wally (Bateman) and Kassie (Aniston) tried dating once upon a time, but they broke up. Now, Kassie’s decided she wants to have a baby and she has no particular interest in Wally’s seed, since he’s a neurotic man-child. Instead she decided to go with Roland’s (Patrick Wilson) sperm, but at a wildly Bacchanalian pregnancy party, Wally gets drunk, misuses Roland’s sperm and has to replace it with his own, an event that he’s too drunk to remember. After a poorly written and contrived seven years apart, Wally and Kassie are reunited and Wally’s surprised to discover that Kaddie’s kid (Thomas Robinson) doesn’t just look exactly like him, but he behaves exactly like him, in a manner that defies any sort of nature vs. nurture logic. 
Well, Wally doesn’t remember the sperm-swapping, so this makes no sense to him, but even if he did remember, he’s too much of a neurotic man-child to open his mouth and make an effort to explain himself to Kassie, who he’s always been in love with anyway.
Essentially, Bateman’s character annoyingly embodies all of the cliches from the man-child meets real-child genre, the cliches that “The Kids Are All Right” so successfully debunked. Man-child skips the most formative, crucial, expensive years of child-rearing and shows up in time for the children to, instead, raise him? Yawn… Like I said, check out “The Switch” for the sitcom version of this story and “The Kids Are All Right” for relative nuance. [As was mentioned earlier, I didn’t love “The Kids Are All Right.” In fact, I had serious reservations. But seeing “The Switch” the next night helped smooth out many of those “Kids” reservations.]
“The Switch” suffers from being simultaneously over-written and under-written. The core plot taken from Eugenides’ story is too flimsy for even a short feature and “The Switch” is a flabby 100+ minutes. Yet even at that length, none of the characters in the movie feel even slightly developed or considered. Kassie has no discernible occupation, which makes several of her life choices feel half-baked. Wally, meanwhile, is a financial analyst and while you’d think that there might be some character-driven material to be mined from the changes in our economy between 2003 and 2010, you’d be wrong. Their occupations and, really, their lives are functionally irrelevant, meaning that “The Switch” isn’t actually going to explore any of the hypothetical sexual politics that ought to support the story. To make them seem a bit less pathetic, both leads are saddled with poorly developed Wacky Best Friends, imbued by Juliette Lewis and Jeff Goldblum with personalities that have little to do with the scripting. 
Situationally, “The Switch” is just frustrating. Whether Wally is being hampered by his memory lapses or his lapses in confidence, those are the only obstacles standing in the way of a 22 minute movie. Actually, there are ample bigger obstacles, the ones that involve the ethical ramifications of what Wally did and the choices Kassie seems to be making, but just as Wally isn’t prepared to discuss anything serious, neither is “The Switch.” A bigger practical obstacle, one that nobody in the movie bothers to mention, is that Aniston and Bateman have precious little chemistry. They’re barely believable as friends and any intimations that they should be more than that are insinuated by outside characters.
That doesn’t mean that either Bateman or Aniston is especially bad individually. Both are, in fact, likable in the most low-commitment way possible. Aniston, as always, emanates warmth, while Bateman impressively supplies both drama and comedy without changing his facial expression for the duration. Gordon and Speck’s direction hinged largely on tight close-ups of their leads, as if hoping that proximity might reveal a spark and although no such spark appears, Aniston and Bateman don’t totally wilt under the close examination.
But not wishing characters ill isn’t the same as wishing them happiness together. Me, I wanted Wally to spend more time with “Wonderfalls” star Caroline Dhavernas, who has only one short, memorable scene. And although Wilson’s character is woefully inconsistently written, Kassie probably doesn’t deserve much better.
“The Switch” gets some credit for a solid performance by Robinson, who mugs a little, but never reaches that terminal level of precociousness that often dooms child actors. Credit should also be given for a solid use of New York City locales. But these are minor pleasures and pleasures which would remain undiminished if you watched “The Switch” in an environment that didn’t require an outlay of $10. That’s not saying a lot, but it’s more kindness than I’d show to recent Aniston (“Love Happens,” “The Bounty Hunter,” “He’s Just Not That Into You,” et al) and Bateman (“Couples Retreat”) vehicles.
“The Switch” opens on Friday, August 20.

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