There are many of you out there that look at The Switch, opening today and casually label it a romantic comedy, a straight chick-flick. I think you need to Switch your thinking (see how I did that?). The film, starring Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston and based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides about artificial insemination, friendship and fatherhood may be about as far from the standard boy meets girl fare that you’re going to see in the theater.
Wally (Jason Bateman) and Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) are best friends and have been for years (after an awkward try at dating). Both are single, successful New Yorkers but Kassie’s biological clock is ticking. With no viable prospect for marriage in the picture she’s decided to take matters into her own hands and start a family on her own, with the assistance of a donor. Wally doesn’t cotton to this idea, which causes friction between the friends. Kassie moves forward with her plan, find a perfect and willing donor named Roland (Patrick Wilson) and throws an insemination party with the help of her free-spirited friend Debbie (Juliette Lewis). Wally, still not on board with the big plan, has a bit too much to drink at the party that begins a domino effect of bad judgment decisions, of which he has no memory of later.
Kassie’s fertilization is successful and she moves back to Minnesota to raise her child, a son named Sebastian. Seven years pass by and Wally is pretty much living the same unfulfilled life he was when Kassie left. She returns to New York with Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) and wants Wally to get to know her son. As Wally spends time with the boy he’s seeing striking similarities between them. Now that the fog of the alcohol has burned off, Wally confesses to his friend Leonard (Jeff Goldblum) that he may have switched donations at the party and that Sebastian may be his son. It’s time for the normally self-absorbed Wally to man up and take some responsibility. But is he ready for the big changes that are coming his way?
As I said before, this movie isn’t a straight romantic-comedy. It’s reminiscent of last year’s 500 Days of Summer or About a Boy where you have a male protagonist navigating the relationship waters. The comedy comes from the reality if the situations and not slap-stick, adolescent humor. Well maybe the scene in the bathroom at the party was a bit juvenile. Anyway, Wally isn’t necessarily a likable character. In fact during the early interactions he has with Sebastian, when Wally is clearly uncomfortable having to deal with a child, he says some pretty horrific things to the boy. But Wally truly grows and there some nice dramatic moments for Bateman to show off those acting chops of his.
Jennifer Aniston’s Kassie isn’t really developed. She’s a good mom, that’s clear and a good person. But there isn’t much beyond that. But in the end, the film is about Wally’s journey so we don’t need to delve too deeply into the psyche of Kassie anyway. If I have one criticism, it’s a shallow one and more about Aniston than the role she played. How many hours does that woman spend in the tanning salon? A New Yorker – in the winter should not be that shade of orange. It’s just not natural.
Patrick Wilson is great as the stalwart, earnest “Viking” Roland. He gets to show off some of his comedic timing this time around. The young actor they found to play Sebastian is sugar-sweet adorable. Considering the weight and complexity of this character, young Thomas Robinson put in an amazing performance. The friends played by always enjoyable character actors Goldblum and Lewis are responsible for many of the laughs, mostly at Wally’s expense.
I think the marketing for The Switch makes it look more warm and fuzzy than it actually is and many will decide to take their movie dollars elsewhere because of that. But those who do take the chance may be pleasantly surprised at what they discover. The strength of this movie is its lead actor, Jason Bateman. I’ve been a Bateman fan since back in the day; I’m talking Silver Spoons here people. It’s a pleasure to see his film career taking off with opportunities like The Switch to really explore complex characters and situations.