Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Switch (2010) ***

Sometimes it pays to listen to the critics, and sometimes it pays to listen to a second opinion. I completely wrote this movie off back when I saw the trailer for it. It looked like just another lame, romantic comedy, and critics didn‘t seem to care much for it when it was in theatres. Also, the premise: a guy hijacks his female friend’s artificial insemination, seemed too similar to some Jennifer Lopez movie that was also getting advertised back then. Fast forward to the present, when this movie, and all other movies dealing with artificial insemination, have been relegated to history. The DVD section of Entertainment Weekly had a good review of the DVD, suggesting that it is an overlooked gem, so my wife convinced me to give it a try. It turns out this really is a fun, little comedy.

Jason Bateman plays Wally, basically the same likeable, slightly awkward character that Bateman always plays, maybe a little more misanthropic and neurotic this time around. He is secretly in love with his best friend, Kassie (Jennifer Aniston), but lacks the walnuts to make a move. Instead he hangs out in the “friend zone” while they both suffer through one failed relationship after another, until Kassie decides to have a baby via artificial insemination. Rather than just having the procedure done in a doctor’s office, Kassie throws a party, where everyone gets to meet the handsome, Viking-like donor, Roland (Patric Wilson). A mixture of alcohol and Xanax puts Wally in a position to “accidentally” pour out Roland’s sperm sample, then replace it with his own. Thanks to the roofie-like effect of the Xanax, Wally remembers nothing the next day.

Thinking that New York might be a tough place to raise her son, Kassie moves back to the mid-west, leaving Wally to continue his string of doomed romances. When she moves back to NYC a few years later, Wally is delighted to meet her son, whose odd quirks seem hauntingly familiar. Meanwhile, Kassie strikes up a relationship with Roland, whom she believes to be the father of her son. Hilarity ensues, along a surprisingly tasteful helping of real emotion.

While there are some good laughs in “The Switch,“ it’s the emotional side that elevates the film beyond it’s hackneyed premise. Jason Bateman may not have the greatest dramatic range, but he has a genuineness that plays really well here. His interactions with his son, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) hinge on the fact that Sebastian is rather precocious and doesn’t like being talked down to, while Wally probably wouldn’t know how to patronize a little kid even if he needed to. Here’s one classic piece of father-son dialogue:

Wally: So, how do you like your new school?
Sebastian: How come everybody asks me that?
Wally: Because you’re a kid. There’s nothing else to talk about.

Jennifer Aniston is also surprisingly good in this role. I’ve always found her quite charming, but pretty bland as an actress, but she really brings some personality to the role of Kassie.

“The Switch” is as formulaic as you might expect, and certainly not the best romantic comedy ever, but good acting saves the day. Your life won’t be missing anything if you don’t manage to rent it, but it is worth a watch if you get the chance.

3 stars out of 5

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