A film review by Craig J. Koban August 31, 2010


2010, PG-13, 105 mins.


Jennifer Aniston: Kassie / Jason Bateman: Wally / Patrick Wilson: Roland / Jeff Goldblum: Leonard / Juliette Lewis: Debbie / Thomas Robinson: Sebastian

Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck / written by Allan Loeb, based on the short story "Baster" by Jeffrey Eugenides

For a genre that seems like it's on life-support as of late, THE SWITCH is a disarming and invigorating little surprise of a dramedy, not to mention a far batter-than-average offering during a late-summer movie season that is usually loaded with disposable, excess baggage.  

The film has most of the standard issue trappings of most dime-a-dozen romcoms and proceeds towards a conclusion of inevitability.  However, THE SWITCH engages in an interesting bit of bait and switch about midway through when it morphs from a fairly perfunctory romantic melodrama and into a surprisingly funny, touching, and bitter sweet father/son bonding film.  Yes, it’s important for films like this that we like the two main leads and wish them on to a pre-end credits scene where they profess their love and commitment to one another, but I found myself almost more moved by the secondary story of a somewhat accidental dad coming to grips with the existence of his son.  On those levels, THE SWITCH finds a narrative strength and an emotional heartbeat. 

Much like DEFINITELY, MAYBE (one of the more underrated romcoms of the last few years), THE SWITCH is most refreshing because it is a chick flick that is told from largely the male perspective, which I think is kind of rare for the genre.  Male characters often get a bad wrap in romcoms: They are either deeply narcissistic, chauvinist pigs that are uncaring of a woman’s needs or complete buffoons or emasculated wimps that are exasperatingly supportive of their female partners no matter what they do.  THE SWITCH provides a lead male character that is a bit more multi-faceted and well rounded: he’s equal parts neurotic, witty, intelligent, and vulnerable, which makes him feel more substantial as a presence in the film.  This, of course, is greatly assisted by the fact that he’s played by Jason Batemen, one of the more criminally undervalued supporting performers of the movies, who’s now finally allowed to branch out and use his sardonic and underplayed charm and soft spoken slyness to successfully helm his very own picture. 

The title of the film refers to a literal switch that occurs with Batemen’s character during an…uh…insemination party.  We are introduced to Bateman’s Wally before this party, a Manhattanite that is best of friends with Kassie (Jennifer Aniston).  Of course, the two are an inseparable pair, but in mostly platonic ways.  Despite that, Wally does inwardly feel more than friendship towards Kassie, but has subverted those feelings for fear of losing her forever (he seems forever stuck in the "friend zone").  During one lunch visit Kassie drops a bit of a bombshell: she wants to have a baby, but via artificial insemination.  Wally awkwardly asks her to consider his man-seed, but she uneasily back peddles thinking that the idea is a bit weird.  Instead, she decides to find a worthy stranger, who comes in the form of Roland (Patrick Wilson) who willingly agrees mostly because the money that Kassie will pay him and his wife is desperately needed. 

Kassie throws her donor party (her invitation even comes with dozens of little paper cutout sperm) and Wally begrudgingly attends (he does not like Kassie's eagerness to have a child with someone else’s juice) mostly because of his subjugated love for her.  He gets needlessly hammered on a cocktail of booze and drugs and finds himself in the bathroom, where Roland’s…er…”ingredient” is rather carelessly left in a medical cup on top of the toilet.  Wally drunkenly plays around with the material, but accidentally spills it down the sink drain.  After getting over his colossal blunder, he stares at the empty cup…then his crotch…then back at the cup…and realizes how he can fix things.  To help him achieve his thankless task, he finds sensory motivation in the form of a magazine cover that features a young Diane Sawyer. 

Problems arise the very next morning when Wally cannot remember a single thing about what he did at the party.  He is later given news that Kassie is leaving The Big Apple to peruse a job opportunity.  Seven years pass and Kassie, after leaving New York, does indeed have her long sought after baby, with Wally never once realizing that it’s actually his.  One fateful day she does return back to New York with her six-year old son, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson, in a scene stealing performance of adorability and intelligence beyond his years).  When Kassie introduces young Sebastian to Wally, he soon begins to notice very, very odd traits and behaviors that are stunningly like his own.  The more time he spends with Sebastian the more he bonds and grows to love the boy.  That, and he also deduces that he is the boy’s father and must break the news to Kassie.  Unfortunately, Kassie still believes that Roland is the sperm donor and, unluckily for Wally, has started a relationship with him after his marriage hit rock bottom.  Wally then gathers up enough courage to finally reveal his true link to Sebastian and his true feelings to Kassie. 

The romantic triangle of THE SWITCH is its least interesting and fleshed out aspect (it’s essentially on romcom autopilot).  However, I will concede that at least the “other” male suitor, played nicely by Wilson, is not a bad guy nor is he a blithering moron nor is he an uncaring fiend unworthy of Kassie’s love; he’s just a somewhat dweeby, but noble minded fellow on the rebound.  The other problem with the film is that Aniston – serving not only as the lead actor, but also as one of the producers – plays a character that’s too underdeveloped for her own good.  The film is largely male-centric in terms of its focus and tone, but Kassie in the film is kind of an abstraction as a persona:  She’s an object of affection and desire for two men in the film, but we really never learn all that much about her.  Aniston, to her credit, does impart her characteristic sassiness and easy-going charm in her marginal role. 

Ultimately, though, the film is owned in just about every frame by Bateman, who – after one brilliantly low key and finely regulated supporting performance after another – brings his unmatchably dry, deadpan wit, understated and ironic delivery, and an almost tender, cynical edge to Wally.  His approach to the leading man here is also compelling: he does not go out of his way to make Wally squeaky clean and instantly loveable.  Oftentimes, he’s can be an overbearingly pessimistic killjoy and somewhat self-serving, but even though he has an implacably logical and structured manner about him, he nonetheless is a decent, caring, and sensitive person.   Even when he occupies the obligatory moment where he must confess his misdeeds “hijacking” Kassie’s pregnancy and relaying his love for her, Bateman is an atypically shrewd and convincing actor for given those moments a believable sincerity.  He makes the most routine and mechanical of confessional scenes feel that much more real. 

And…seriously…how impossibly delightful and sweet is Thomas Robinson as the child that becomes endeared to Wally?  He’s such an intriguing little creature of obsessive habit (he collects picture frames because he likes the stock images within them, has a loathing of Peking duck and rock climbing, is addicted to Googling medical illnesses and is a textbook hypochondriac).  Sebastian is a child that appears almost abnormally sophisticated and smart beyond his mere six years, but he’s as fragile and socially unripe as any young tyke and his scenes with Bateman are touchingly engaging and carry a real honesty and poignancy.  They are the lovable odd couple of neurotic brainiacs that make THE SWITCH really tick and rise far above its lamer romcom clichés. 

The cast is rounded off nicely by the appearance of Jeff Goldblum who plays Wally’s advice-giving work colleague and buddy that drolly utters both words of wisdom to Wally and the occasional hilarious one-liner with that...how do I say it... quintessentially fidgety,  Goldblum-esque intonation that the actor does with precise ease.  THE SWITCH certainly benefits from respectably decent performances by the cast, who mostly inhabit three-dimensional characters that - alongside a fairly engrossing side story within the main romcom one – makes the film more than just a sperm-donor-daddy farcical comedy of misunderstanding.  No doubt, the film is saddled with regurgitated formulas and Aniston seems curiously sidelined in her own starring vehicle, but there is enough here to make THE SWITCH worthy of a recommendation.  And Bateman plays such an interesting foil to the typical romcom leading man, mostly because he plays things straight and with a carefully dialed in modulation to elicit the laughter and sentiment, something that many other actors in films like this try way too hard at

  H O M E