"An Unexpected Celebration of Fatherhood and Family"
It’s always a surprise when you go into a movie theatre expecting one thing and wind up with a completely different kind of experience. Usually that surprise is an unpleasant one, when a movie starring a superstar turns out to be a complete dud – for instance, 2003’s utter disaster HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE with Harrison Ford, a movie so bad that its writers and director haven’t made another movie.
Far more rare is the case that a film can look atrocious and downright distasteful in its ad campaign and then turn out to be an better than anticipated. Yet, thankfully, that’s the case with the new romantic comedy THE SWITCH, in which Jennifer Aniston plays Kassie, a woman who opts for artificial insemination when she can’t find Mr. Right while facing 40. Her long-time best friend Wally (Jason Bateman) offers to be the sperm supplier, but she has him stuck in the “friend zone” and worries he’ll pass on his neuroses to boot.
The TV commercials for THE SWITCH cut to the chase with a stomach-churning scene in which Wally (Jason Bateman) drunkenly sniffs, stares at, plays with, and then spills the container of male seed Kassie is hoping to use for the procedure. Realizing she has an apartment filled with people attending her “pregnancy party,” and that he can’t face up to admitting he’s ruined her big night, Wally takes care of replenishing the genetic material himself.
So far, so icky. And yet, a better movie is already lurking around the edges as there’s witty banter between the two stars, who are in top form throughout the film, and a thoughtful opening narration over images of New Yorkers rushing right past each other’s lives. That clever writing is courtesy of Allan Loeb, who has a whopping 12 screenplays in production.
The movie pulls a switch of its own after taking a seven-year leap in time. Kassie decided to move back home to Minnesota while pregnant because she felt it would be too hard to raise a child in New York City. Now that her son is six, she’s gotten a great job offer back in the Big Apple, and she’s suddenly ready to re-enter Wally’s life.
Wally’s still single and a neurotic mess, but he sees that her son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson, a real find) looks and acts just like himself, even as Kassie’s in oblivious denial. Wally can’t remember his drunken behavior the night he switched, but he begins to suspect what he did. Kassie relies on Wally to babysit for Sebastian while she delves into a new relationship with the guy she thought was the donor (Patrick Wilson). Eventually, Wally comes to realize it’s time to grow up and fight for the important things in life.
THE SWITCH is directed by the team of Josh Gordon and Will Speck, who previously did the Will Ferrell figure-skating farce BLADES OF GLORY. They pull a 180 in this film once the slapsticky first 20 minutes pass, turning out a film that knows when to be funny but, more importantly, knows when to be serious without turning sappy. It’s similar to the 2002 film ABOUT A BOY in which Hugh Grant played a middle-aged man-child forced to mature when a lonely teenage boy and his mother enter his life.
Gordon and Speck also make vibrant use of a sharp supporting cast including Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis, as well as the movie’s many New York City locations. They fully ingrain the city into the movie’s atmosphere without relying on overused tourist traps like the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. And, the sharp score by Alex Wurman is complemented by an array of thoughtful indie-rock songs.
For those wondering how the film handles the moral issues of artificial insemination and single motherhood, THE SWITCH starts out with Kassie happy and determined to get pregnant, saying that a man isn’t necessary to raise a child. As the movie goes on, however, it uses a couple of quietly powerful and moving sequences to show the enormous emotional impact the lack of a father and the opportunity to bond with a father figure can have on a child. This is one movie that handles thorny lifestyle issues in a directly positive way.
There are a few obscenities, however, plus a significant number of light profanities. And, the movie opens and closes with a mention of fate, but, in the middle, a major scene has a song that mentions praying to God.
Put it all together, and THE SWITCH is a cinematic surprise: a movie that is far better than expected although deeply flawed in the beginning.
(Pa, Ro, BB, C, LLL, V, S, N, AA, M) Mixed light pagan worldview with a mention of fate twice (including at the end), which starts with Romantic elements reflecting the opinion that women don’t need men to raise a child but ultimately changes to strong family-values, including a moral message about the importance of fatherhood and a positive portrait of marriage at the end, with some redemptive elements, including a positive reference in song lyrics to praying to God in a crucial scene; 13 relatively light obscenities (no “f” words but mentally ill homeless guy calls a strange woman the “b” word several times), zero strong profanities and 17 light profanities (mostly My God); light violence includes man slaps woman and implied violence when child’s face is shown with a couple scratches after a schoolyard fight; mostly implied sexual content includes some comically intended euphemisms implying masturbation, artificial insemination and male seed, with implied scene of impending preparation by man to supply his own male seed after he spills other donor’s sample in sink and woman goes to man’s cabin for weekend but there are no scenes of them together there; brief rear male nudity in a stage play of HAMLET where the lead actor is nude and totally obscured frontal scene of lead character in the play, but the actor is mocked for playing the part nude; lead male character gets severely drunk, but immense consequences are depicted; no smoking but lead actress attempts to light a cigarette and lead actor throws it away from her; and, lying is key to the plot but is shown as a very serious matter and honesty and forgiveness win out, some moral relativism concerning sexual promiscuity and marriage but single motherhood is ultimately and strongly shown to be dysfunctional and is associated with pagan fertility images, plus a two-parent home of mother and father is depicted as the truly loving and optimal situation for the child involved and fatherhood and marriage are extolled.
THE SWITCH turns into a comedy with some heartwarming moments that are inspiring rather than sappy. The basic story gimmick is distastefully immoral and there are some other problems, but it ends up having a rather positive message. The story is about two friends, Kassie and Wally, who seem to be made for each other. However, Kassie thinks Wally too neurotic and Wally is afraid to tell Kassie how he feels. Kassie is pushing 40, so, against Wally’s advice, she decides to have a baby artificially. A drunken Wally unintentionally upsets Kassie’s plans and switches his genetic material for that of Kassie’s intended male donor. This causes all sorts of problems when Kassie returns to New York City seven years later with Wally’s son.
Despite its modern story gimmick, THE SWITCH turns out to be a very effective comedy with a message that extols fatherhood and marriage. It also shows single parenthood to be ultimately dysfunctional. Jennifer Aniston, Justin Bateman and Thomas Robinson are superb as the couple and the son. THE SWITCH does contain some sexual innuendo, foul language and a couple references to fate, so extreme caution is advised.