The Switch is not what you expect, and in so many ways. It’s been sold to unsuspecting audiences as a romantic comedy, but it’s neither romantic nor funny. It’s based on an outrageous short story (by Jeffrey Eugenides) called The Baster, about a woman who wants to have a child via artificial insemination, and the man who replaces her preferred sperm sample with his own, without her knowledge. I’ll let your imagination fill in where the (turkey) baster comes into play.
Despite the premise, The Switch isn’t really an adaptation of The Baster, either, though the first twenty minutes may have you thinking otherwise. In fact, a turkey baster only appears here as a nod to the short story, a throwaway gag rather than a plot device.
No, The Switch is actually an affectionate drama about Wally Mars (Jason Bateman), the man who accidentally loses his best friend’s sperm sample and, in a drunken stupor, replaces it with his own. It’s only seven years later that he realizes what he did, as he first meets and then begins to bond with his now-six-year-old son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson). The scenes between Wally and Sebastian, which make up the bulk of the film, are truly touching. The best friend, Kassie, is played by a top-billed Jennifer Aniston, but her contribution here is negligible.
Not that the producers want you to realize that: The Switch has been sold as a romantic comedy, and with a little last-minute post-production tinkering here and there, that’s what they’re gonna deliver.
What we get is a real mess: an almost unwatchable opening 20 minutes, complete with unfunny, borderline-offensive jokes (a mentally disturbed homeless man shouts insults at various handicapped individuals on the street; then Wally and Kassie have laughs about him over lunch) segues into the solid drama, and then a romantic subplot is haphazardly injected into the final act.
Only problems here: Bateman and Aniston have zero chemistry (and were clearly not intended to be love interests at some point in the writing process), and almost every attempt at comedy falls on its face (though Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis, in best-friend roles that are far beneath them, are occasionally amusing).
The drama works here, much to my surprise, but it’s undone by everything else in this sloppily constructed film (among others, a sign of last-minute tinkering: High Fidelity‘s Todd Louiso, credited as Artie in the end credits, is nowhere to be seen in the final film – though I think I glimpsed the back of his head in the first party scene.)
After 10 years on the wildly popular sitcom Friends and solid indie cred built up through films like Office Space and The Good Girl, Jennifer Aniston has gone nowhere in what should have been the peak of her career.
Formula rom-com after formula rom-com have taken their toll, and worn away at what was once an especially appealing persona. The Switch is no different; bringing nothing to the role, indistinguishable from dozens of other rom-com leads, Aniston drowns under the weight of an underwritten character.
Bateman, on the other hand, has gone in the complete opposite direction: after the failed (but wonderful) sitcom Arrested Development, he’s had a string of memorable supporting roles in movies like The Kingdom, Juno, State of Play, and Up in the Air, and now finds himself on the verge of stardom. He’s The Switch‘s saving grace, bringing an affectionate poignancy to a one-note role; his touching scenes with young Robinson make an otherwise disposable film worth watching.
The Switch was directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, previously known for the Will Ferrell-Jon Heder ice skating comedy Blades of Glory, and a short-lived US TV show based on the cavemen from a series of Geico advertisements. No, I wasn’t expecting much here, either. But the story of Wally and his son getting to know each other despite such outrageous circumstances really works, and belongs in a better movie.
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