What a pleasant surprise. I anticipated that The Switch, as I’m sure most anyone who read the blurbs or paid attention to the TV commercials, would be your typical romantic comedy, complete with a high concept and forced attempts at being funny. With Jennifer Aniston, a victim of some very awful movies, as the lead actress, one would expect the same type of crap that Kathrine Heigl has been churning out since she denounced Judd Apatow. Instead, The Switch is nothing like those flimsy Hollywood rom coms. It’s a heartfelt, touching film, a reflection on a man growing up and coming to terms with being a father. The closest film that comes to mind in both tone and pacing is the wonderful, About A Boy, released nine years ago. In that film, Hugh Grant grew up, fell in love and discovered that the presence of a child in his life made him a better man. The Switch accomplishes the same thing, with Jason Bateman showing great depth and emotional range.
Bateman and Aniston are Wally and Kassie, long time best friends living in New York City.They had a short lived romance when they first met, but decided that they worked better as friends. Both characters are successful and single, approaching their forties. Kassie, a strong independent woman with a huge heart, wants to have a baby. Trouble is she’s been unsuccessful in finding a mate. So, she decides to go it alone through artificial insemination. However, Kassie decides that she wants to meet the donor, to make sure he isn’t a degenerate. Enter Roland (Patrick Wilson) a handsome, charming married man who needs the money. The overly neurotic Wally is weary of this whole plan, but his objections are ignored. Kassie is ready for motherhood and nothing’s going to stop her.
Kassie’s wild and rowdy friend, Debbie (played by the always unpredictable Juliette Lewis) decides to throw Kassie an insemination party, where guests can stop by, have a few drinks, Roland will make a deposit in a plastic cup and a doctor will impregnate Kassie. Apparently these type of shindigs are all the rage. I don’t know, but it makes for an unusual and amusing sequence of events. Wally shows up, ingests some kind of herbal whammy drug from Juliette and gets completely shitfaced. As the night grows long and Wally can barely stand up, he finds himself in the bathroom where Roland’s plastic cup of sperm rests, waiting for Kassie. Wally accidentally washes the donation down the sink and in a moment of drunken desperation, he finds a photo of Diane Sawyer and replaces it with his own. The next morning, he has no memory of what he did. When Kassie late announces that she’s pregnant and moving back to live with her folks in Minnesota, he has no clue that he’s a father.
Jump ahead seven years and Kassie returns to New York with her young son, Sebastian. Immediately it’s obvious that this little child (played to perfection by Thomas Robinson), is Wally’s son, as he shares all of the characteristics of his biological father. But Wally can’t remember that night and Kassie doesn’t have a clue. It takes some time, but Wally slowly realizes that Sebastian is his son. Upon the realization that he hijacked his best friend’s pregnancy, Wally understands that he must tell Kassie, even though he risks losing her and Sebastian.
Structurally, The Switch shares many of the same story devices as almost any romantic comedy. There are misunderstandings, kooky best friends, and even an obstacle of Kassie choosing the wrong guy, Roland (after he’s divorced his wife). However, screenwriter Allan Loeb uses the formula as a starting point and avoids many of the problems that face most romantic comedies. Instead of going for quick laughs, he invests in his characters and makes them three dimensional. Bateman and Aniston shine because Loeb’s characters are sincere and real, not just stock models.
The film was directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, whose previous film was the Will Ferrell slapstick comedy, Blades of Glory. They’re also the men behind the Geico cavemen. In this film, they show a maturity that was lacking in their previous efforts. The Switch has a sweetness and poignancy to it that makes it a grown up movie, not some throwaway popcorn film that gets digested by teenagers and forgotten the next morning. It sticks with you, especially the growth Wally goes through as the film progresses.
I loved everything about this film: the New York City locations, Jeff Goldblum playing… well, Jeff Goldblum and Aniston’s sweet and engaging performance. Bateman is flat out wonderful, while Robinson is a true find. So many child actors can grate on your nerves after a few scenes as they become too cutesy or robotic. This young actor appears very comfortable and natural in front of the camera. The scenes that he shares with Bateman are special in their own way and worth the price of a rental. It saddens me that The Switch was a box office failure. The marketing certainly didn’t help as it made the movie come off as just another rom com. Hopefully the film will find new life on DVD, as it’s one of the most complete romantic relationship movies I’ve seen in some time.