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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Switch

A Bateman-Aniston farce based on a Jeffrey Eugenides short story — and it works, mostly

Posted By on Wed, Aug 25, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Sometimes good actors can overcome a shaky premise, and the funny veteran cast of The Switch adroitly maneuvers through the dire-pregnancy-comedy minefield. That's not to say there isn't some collateral damage along the way, but this movie avoids the utter carnage wrought by the recent J-Lo mommy-comedy stinkbomb The Back-Up Plan, a clunker of epic proportions, it made the birthing process look so appalling that you briefly feared for the continuation of our species. It may be damning with faint praise to compare this favorably with a major disaster like that, but this is a film with fairly modest ambitions to begin with. 

For starters, no one here does a cha-cha through fresh amniotic fluid, which is a definite bonus. Instead, we focus on character development, even when these otherwise relatable humans devolve into utter clods for the sake of plot advancement. 

Stars Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston lack serious romantic chemistry, but they do create mild comedic sparks together and make for a believably warm pair of best pals. Aniston's perpetually single gal Kassie is smart, gorgeous, loving, and — due to fractured-mirror rom-com logic — she's totally unable to score the right man. Haven't we seen her in this predicament before? 

Meanwhile, Bateman's Wally is a bottomless pit of kvetching and neurosis, who in days gone by would have been played by Richard Benjamin or Dustin Hoffman. Devoid of ethnic identity or physical impediments, we're left to infer that Wally isn't mate material because he's an uptight fussbudget. 

Tired of waiting for Prince Charming, Kassie wises up and hires a dim but handsome sperm donor and throws an "insemination" party where all her friends get shitfaced, while the donor makes a special deposit in the bathroom. 

This is all too much for sensitive Wally, and in a drunken stumble, he spills out the sample and replaces it with his own. I know — gross. 

Hard to believe such silliness rose from a short story by Detroit's own master of darkly perverse satire, Jeffrey Eugenides (Virgin Suicides), yet the sitcom shenanigans intensify when we cut ahead six years and Kassie has returned to town with a beyond-precocious son Sebastian. He's a hyper-brainy chip off the old block, prone to hypochondria and clean-freak fastidiousness. Now timid Wally must find a way to reveal his dirty parentage secret without alienating his son and the woman he's been pining after for so long. 

Due to scripting shortcuts, the leads are afforded one friend each; Jeff Goldblum, bless him, is as always in fine form, and his effortless comedic chops add real zing as Bateman's chilled-out hipster boss. On the other side, Juliette Lewis gives her least crazy performance in years, and the hopeless romantic foil is played by the avatar of modern blandness, Patrick Wilson — and he gets beat up mostly for being a blandly handsome WASP. 

All of them, even Aniston, take a backseat to Bateman, who puts the picture on his slightly slouched shoulders and carries it with his deadpan wit and sheepish charm. The Switch is enjoyable enough, and it keeps gently pushing at the edges of its stiffness, but never hard enough to break through the constraints of a truly squirm-inducing genre.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to


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