Switch, The (United States, 2010)August 18, 2010
The Switch made me want to gnash my teeth in frustration. Nested within the restrictive confines of a middling romantic comedy is a secondary plot of some immediacy and power. It results in several moving scenes and allows Jason Bateman's acting to rise to unexpected heights. Yet all that's good about The Switch is undermined by the need to conform to romantic comedy standards and by the predictable performance of a miscast Jennifer Aniston. Although the dramatic elements of The Switch vary from passable to strong, the comedy is often forced and generic. In the end, the film seems confused about what it wants to do and be, and its inability to decide results in a finished product that is unable to satisfy.
The Switch opens in New York City "seven years ago." Best friends Wally (Jason Bateman) and Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) are having lunch when she announces that she intends to get pregnant and she wants Wally to help find a suitable sperm donor. That honor eventually goes to Roland (Patrick Wilson), who needs the money so he and his wife can make ends meet. While drunk and high on an "herbal supplement," Wally switches Roland's sperm for his own. Afterward, his memory of the event is hazy, so when Kassie announces she's pregnant, it never occurs to him that he is the father of her unborn child. She moves away from New York so she can raise her son in a different environment.
Seven years later, Kassie returns, with a six-year old boy, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), in tow. Sebastian is like a miniature Wally, and that triggers Wally's memory. He tries to tell Kassie but, in true sit-com fashion, obstacles block his path. So, while Sebastian bonds with "Uncle Wally," now Kassie's most reliable babysitter, she embarks upon a romance with the recently divorced Roland. Meanwhile, both Wally and Kassie are repressing their feelings for one another, with Kassie doing a considerably better job at hiding things. Circumstances come to a head, as they often do in movies of this sort, when Wally works up the courage to spill the beans.
The strength and heart of The Switch lies in the relationship between Wally and Sebastian. To give directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (working from Allan Loeb's screenplay, which is based on a short story by Jeffrey "Virgin Suicides" Eugenides) their due, this is developed with a deftness of touch and an understanding of the yearning of a fatherless child to find an adult male role model and of a childless father to bond with his son. A pair of scenes between Bateman and effective young performer Thomas Robinson are affecting without being overly sentimental. At its best, The Switch is reminiscent of About a Boy, although, sadly, there are too few times when the connection is apparent. Instead, The Switch spends much time attempting to generate cheap laughs and exploring a romance that is d.o.a.
The casting of Jennifer Aniston, possibly necessary for the project to be greenlighted (she is listed as an executive producer), is the production's Achilles Heel. Aniston spends the movie being the same Jennifer Aniston who has inhabited so many mediocre perky romantic comedies in recent years rather than the Jennifer Aniston who showed her acting chops in The Good Girl. There's no evidence that Aniston shares chemistry with any of her co-stars. There's no spark between her and Jason Bateman; we feel his longing for her, but it's not reciprocated. In fact, she doesn't even seem very friendly with him. There's no sense of sexual attraction between her and Patrick Wilson. And there's no discernable motherly impulse where Thomas Robinson is concerned. It's impossible to have a successful romantic comedy (even of the generic sort) when one of the leads fails to connect with her co-stars. Many of the scenes that work are ones in which Aniston is absent. There is an exception, but the effectiveness of that moment is entirely because of Bateman.
To the extent that there is successful comedy in The Switch, it can be attributed to the supporting performance of Jeff Goldblum. Goldblum plays Wally's obligatory Best Male Friend. He's on hand to be a sounding board and provide advice. Unfortunately, his screen time is severely curtailed. Much of the failed comedy can be attributed to the presence of the shrill Juliette Lewis, who has not improved with age. She's Kassie's obligatory Best Female Friend and is around to dis Wally and throw a "pregnancy party" for Kassie. Fortunately, her screen time is severely curtailed.
It would be nice to argue that the good outweighs the bad in The Switch, but it's a wash. A slightly more dramatic tone, a subtle shift of the focus from the adult romance to the father/son bond, or a more rounded performance from Aniston might have resulted in a worthwhile experience. The Switch's unevenness makes it impossible to recommend for theatrical viewing, although it may play better when it reaches cable and requires less effort to see. As flawed as the production is, the good parts place it into the watchable category.
Switch, The (United States, 2010)
Cast: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Patrick Wilson, Thomas Robinson Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis
Screenplay: Allan Loeb, based on the short story by Jeffrey Eugenides
Cinematography: Jess Hall
Music: Alex Wurman
U.S. Distributor: Miramax Films