The Good: Relationship between Wally and Leonard, Most of the acting
The Bad: Oppressive pacing, No spark between the principles, Goldblum's lack of acting, Voiceovers
The Basics: Despite having a few moments that are charming, The Switch never quite launches as a Jason Bateman/Jennifer Aniston vehicle.
Jason Bateman is having a pretty awesome career. This week, Arrested Development (reviewed here!) was announced to be returning for a season and a film, over five years after it was canceled by FOX and his film career keeps fleshing out. And I usually watch movies where performers like Bateman are paired with the current tabloid darling, like Jennifer Aniston, and I think, "I wonder if his wife is paranoid about the two of them." I had no such feeling watching Bateman and Aniston in The Switch, mostly because the scenes where they were physically the closest they exhibited less than no sexual chemistry. I find myself starting my review of The Switch there because this is a movie with such a simple concept, that I found myself so underwhelmed by, that I cannot think of much to write about it.
Even though The Change-Up (reviewed here!) had an equally convoluted or forced initial premise, that movie was fun and it was the comedy I was expecting when I sat down to it. Unfortunately, The Switch is a serious drama that uses a ridiculous romantic comedy-style plot contrivance to get going and it simply never grounds itself. Instead, the movie lumbers on with characters whom it is hard to empathize with, utterly unnecessary voiceovers and a painful plot construction that is, sadly, dull in its execution.
Wally and Kassie are good friends who once tried a romantic relationship and have since been friends. Kassie decides, with a little prodding from her gynecologist, that she wants to have a baby and she begins the hunt for a sperm donor. She finds her donor in the married Roland and her crazy friend Debbie throws her a whole insemination party. At that party, Wally gets very drunk and is forced to use the bathroom Roland has left his sample in. In a blackout haze, Roland accidentally washes Roland's semen down the drain and replaces it with his own, arriving later that night at his friend and coworker, Leonard's, home. The next morning, he has no memory of even being at Leonard's and he goes about his life, a life without Kassie as she moves back to Minnesota to raise her child when it is born.
Seven years later, Kassie returns to New York City and she and Wally begin to see one another. Wally meets Sebastian, Kassie's son and almost immediately, he begins to realize something is not quite right with the boy. When Roland, now divorced, comes back into the picture, Wally begins to slowly recall the forgotten elements of the night of the party and he tries to find a way to break the news to Kassie. As circumstances continually throw Wally and Sebastian together, Kassie and Roland get closer and closer, making breaking the truth to Kassie more difficult.
The Switch is difficult to go into specific analysis of without revealing much about the plot, largely because the plot is so simple and the film takes a surprisingly long time just to get to the actual switch. If it wasn't actually a long time, it sure felt like it when my wife and I watched it. But the contrivance is just that. I don't mean the actual switch of semen, that could realistically happen. I suppose even the drunken stupor that makes Wally forget until the most plot inconvenient time could happen as well. But writers Allan Loeb and Jeffrey Eugenides seem to lack any real sense of how genetics works. The genetic blueprint is good for phenotypes, not behaviors. Wally begins to notice specific developed mannerisms that Sebastian has that begin to trigger his memories, things like Sebastian grumbling while he eats, being neurotic and bullied, all of which are traits or experiences Wally had or has.
So, there is an utterly ridiculous quality to The Switch that plays out poorly. The film is not funny, but uses both a simple plot device and ridiculous reasoning that we tend to excuse in romantic comedies, but not in serious dramas. The result is an unsatisfying movie that tries to have the emotional depth of a drama, without the intelligence needed to become emotionally invested in it.
Sadly, as one who can become emotionally invested even in a good romantic comedy protagonist, the death knell for The Switch certainly was the fact that none of the characters are remotely empathetic. Wally tries to come clean with Kassie, but not hard enough. And Kassie is supposed to be charming and oblivious, but comes across as singlemindedly focused to the point of being an utter dullard.
So, what works? I actually enjoyed the relationship between Bateman's Wally and Jeff Goldblum's Leonard. It is reassuring to see a movie where a character like Wally who is distanced for years from Kassie actually maintains some friendships, like the one with Leonard. As a fan of Wonderfalls (reviewed here!), I enjoyed the cameo by Caroline Dhavernas. On a more substantive note, Patrick Wilson drove home a solid supporting performance as Roland. Wilson has an amazing ability to portray a character who is both strong and clearly out of his element and Roland is exactly that. Wilson infuses him with enough presence to be a plausible object of Kassie's affection when he returns to the movie, but hurt enough by Sebastian's dislike of him. Regardless of anything else, Wilson gives another great performance, illustrating why his star has been on the rise of late as well.
What is unfortunate, in addition to the complete lack of chemistry between Aniston and Bateman and the plot that is so contrived it could only happen in the movies, is Jeff Goldblum's performance where he is given yet another role where he plays the same type character we have seen him do almost every other time. This suggests Goldblum is either the most horribly mis-typecast person in Hollywood or one of the worst actors. Either way, his part in The Switch is enough to make one cringe. It is pretty sad when an actor of his alleged caliber is outshined by the child actor, in this case Thomas Robinson.
In the end, The Switch is forgettable and worse than being bad, "forgettable" is something one does not want a movie to be.
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© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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