Every once in a while a movie comes along where I’ll take one look at the premise, and just feel a little bit worse about myself for living in a society where such a thing can come to be. Generally my response is to ignore these movies, and do my best to pretend that they just don’t exist. (I’m looking at you Twilight.) Simultaneously, however, there are certain actors/directors/screen-writers who’s movies I will always make a point of seeing. Despite some moderate bumps in the road, (I’m looking at you Extract,) Jason Bateman is one of these actors. So today’s movie, The Switch presented me with somewhat of a dilemma. On the one hand, it stars the erstwhile Michael Bluth, but on the other hand, it had all the signs of being a romantic comedy based on premise that was as illogical as it was creepy. It’s a movie that, were I not doing this whole One Movie Each Day mission, I almost certainly would never have seen. I’d have thought about it, considered it from time to time… but I know that I would always have been able to find some better way to spend that hour and forty-eight minutes of my life. But of course, I have set myself on this particular quest, and I’ve already come to the conclusion that to blog is to face something of an unquenchable monster, hungry for content. So, since I’ve made this commitment to myself and to you my dozen or so regular readers, today I sat down to watch The Switch.
Well, actually I meant to watch The Change-Up the somewhat similarly-titled, marginally less stupidly-premised, body-swapping comedy starring Bateman and Ryan Reynolds. Unfortunately somewhere along the line I got things a little crossed up, and wound up watching The Switch instead. As I’m sure I would have gotten around to watching it one day before too long, but, having seen the film, I wish that day could have been delayed a little longer. This is because, despite somehow surviving its premise without becoming too skeevy The Switch just isn’t a very good movie.
That this film manages to survive its own premise is really its greatest accomplishment. I know I don’t really want to describe it, so here’s Wikipedia’s summary:
Kassie Larson (Jennifer Aniston) decides she wants to have a baby. Despite the objections of her neurotic best friend Wally Mars (Jason Bateman), she chooses to do so alone, with the services of handsome and charming sperm donor Roland (Patrick Wilson). Wally has always had feelings for Kassie, but as his friend Leonard (Jeff Goldblum) points out, he missed his chance and she put him in the “friend zone.” Kassie organizes an “insemination party,” where Roland produces the sperm in the bathroom, and leaves behind the cup. Wally uses the bathroom and sees the sample. Drunk, and not liking the idea of Kassie being inseminated with this sperm, he plays with the cup, and accidentally spills it into the sink. Panicking, he replaces the sperm with his own. The insemination is successful but Kassie has to leave New York because of her work; still believing that she is pregnant with Roland’s child.
Seven years later, Kassie returns to New York along with precocious-but-neurotic son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson). Wally forms a bond with this loveable mini-version of himself and Sebastian has started to become close with Wally, but the bad news is that Roland is in the picture too: Kassie has started dating him because she thinks he is Sebastian’s father.
Any film where the term “insemination party” is an unavoidable part of the plot summary is going to be a film that’s saddled itself with a tough premise, but to its credit The Switch, manages to get through this essntial plot point with about as much grace as could be possible. (Which, unfortunately isn’t really all that much.)
Unfortunately, having pulled of the Herculean task of making the premise palatable, the movie still fails, because it becomes an entirely predictable romantic comedy… without much romance.
The film essentially consists of 30 minutes of setting up the premise, 75 minutes of watching Wally repeatedly failing to tell Kassie the truth about her son’s paternity, while simultaneously bonding with said son, then an all too quick resolution. Much of the middle of the film finds a way to be simultaneously frustrating and boring, which is never a good combination.
The fault here lies almost entirely with the screenplay. The movie was adapted from a short story, and it really feels like there just wasn’t enough story here to justify a full feature, so there’s a lot or padding, and its not good. On more than one occasion I found myself wanting to yell at the characters to “get on with it”. The central conflict in the movie is that Wally needs to tell Kassie his big secret. To the character’s credit he reaches the decision to do so almost immediately, but then takes forever to actually do so. Then, there’s practically no time spent on the fallout from when he finally does. It feels like having spent all of their time finding way to delay this inevitable plot point the filmmakers realized they were now running out of time, and have to resolve everything in one all-too-short scene and an epilogue. After so much interminable buildup, this feels like something of a cheat.
In spite of the problems with the plot, there is some decent acting. Bateman in particular manages to make most of the difficult scenes at least watchable, while Goldblum is just fantastic, stealing almost every scene he’s in. On the flip-side Juliette Lewis is nearly intolerable as Kassie’s other best friend Debbie. Some of this is probably intentional, the character is supposed to be annoying to the point that Wally doesn’t keep in touch with her at all once their mutual friend moves away, but Lewis’s character is so annoying and such a personality mismatch to the rest of the cast that I honestly didn’t see how Kassie could possibly be her friend.
This is a movie that just seems like a terrible idea on paper, and slightly offensive as a trailer, somehow it does manage to get beyond that… then it does nothing else. It isn’t terrible, but it’s not worth seeing.
[The Switch (2010) – Directed by Josh Gordon & Will Speck – Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual material including dialogue, some nudity, drug use and language]