Monday, September 13, 2010

Love: The Switch

When my parents requested my presence for dinner and a Sunday night viewing of The Switch, I was pretty unenthusiastic. Spurred on by the promise of a bottomless basket of Red Robin fries and a Coke slushy, I drug myself away from my fortress of solitude with the expectation of total and complete boredom, the promise of Jason Bateman and the few laughs from the trailer not nearly enough to make this worth my while.

My opinion started to change almost immediately beginning with the first title: “Based on a short story, ‘The Baster,’ by Jeffery Eugenides."

The film retelling is a tale of two neurotic friends, Kassie and Wally, with high paying, enviable lives in Manhattan, who despite their best efforts can’t seem to admit their feelings to one another, running through a variety of doomed relationships while the other waits in the wings. Her maternal clock counting down to zero, Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) decides to have a baby on her own via a sperm donor. At a pagan looking fertility party to honor Kassie's impending impregnation, Roland, the tall, handsome, smart donor (Patrick Wilson) who Wally (Bateman) refers to as “The Viking,” gives up the goods, leaving them on the bathroom sink. Wally, who has been entirely distressed by the situation and too uptight to just come out and tell Cassie he loves her, instead turns into an uncharacteristically unsupportive jerk who gets wasted beyond remembrance and in a fit of drunken zaniness drops the donor sperm down the sink. Left with few options, he replaces it with his own. Several years later, Kassie moves back to New York with her young son Sebastian (the darling Thomas Robinson) in tow, and rekindles both her friendship with Wally and the sexy, now single Viking donor who she ends up dating, excited by the prospect that her son might end up with his biological father in his life. It becomes increasingly clear that the negative, neurotic, and hypochondriac child is nothing like the strapping Roland but is very much like Wally, who suddenly remembers his actions. Wally, armed with the knowledge of what he did, falls in love with his son, who in turn falls in love with him. Eventually the truth needs to come out as Wally and Kassie find themselves finally having to act like grown-ups. 

I wonder if this film received lackluster reviews because it was sold as something it’s not. The previews seemed to imply that The Switch would be a standard if not slightly funnier romcom, focused on Bateman and Aniston that perhaps bordered on Judd Apatow territory. The Switch is not said romcom slop, but is instead a movie about father-son bonding, leaving Aniston herself in what is really a supporting role. 

It is this father-son bonding that makes parts of the film endearing, heartbreaking, and magical. Bateman and his onscreen son have tons of chemistry, the slight suggestions of their genetic bond amusing and undeniable. When Sebastian develops lice, forcing Wally to overcome his own neurosises, it’s one of the cutest moments I’ve ever seen on screen. Bateman plays Wally just right, his negative attitude and many issues nuanced yet funny. His son doesn’t force him to grow-up reluctantly like many a wayward male has had to do in this sort of thing. Instead, Bateman communicates the process with a sense of joy that bleeds through to the audience and wraps them up with him. Sebastian doesn’t make Wally into something he’s not, but gives him the freedom to accept who he truly is and find the people that accept and love him for that person too. The film is certainly funny with a great script, and has just the right amount of polish and gloss to make it feel properly escapist. It was an all around lovely surprise, the arc of Wally’s character truly saying something about parenting, love, and what it means to be an adult without all the typical b.s. 

My problem lies with the other characters. Aniston does a fine job with Kassie, playing her as a likeable, real person, far from the high powered type A's we’re used to seeing. But as the movie progresses, the filmmakers seem to leave her hanging a bit, sacrificing her development for more screen time for Bateman and son, not giving Aniston (who I will argue can be a talented comedic actress when given the chance) much to work with. Patrick Wilson’s Roland is entirely one dimensional. While I know that’s both playful and on purpose, and may have sounded better on paper with Eugenides’ narration, it’s hard not to wish there was something more there than a dimwitted version of the Old Spice guy. Juliette Lewis as the new-agey supportive friend of Kassie provides some laughs, but leaves the audience with that odd feeling that the great actress has fallen prey to the older actress purgatory of annoying, overblown, and over aged hippie roles. Jeff Goldblum is the highlight of the supporting cast, playing his role in typical sarcastic Goldblum fashion while still making it feel subtle and fun. The strength in some of the characters in contrast to the weaker ones leaves the film with an uneven feeling, and by the end leaves the relationship between Kassie and Wally more on the cold side than I wanted. 

There’s a lot to like about The Switch, a lot more than most would have you believe. But despite all that sweetness, funny moments, and soul searching, there are things that could be better. Enough to make it a bad movie, absolutely not, but not enough to make it stellar one either. When Kassie tells Wally at the end that she's mad but will probably marry him anyway, it's impossible not to share her sentiment about the movie itself, and give in, despite yourself. 

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