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Movie Review: The Switch (PG-13)

A Sweet “Switch”

By Roxana Hadadi

It’s kind of a challenge to take Jennifer Aniston seriously. The woman pop culture will always know as Rachel has starred in a series of disappointingly bad chick-flicks – “Rumor Has It…,” “Love Happens,” “The Bounty Hunter” – in recent years, and her latest, “The Switch,” could easily have become that awful. She’s yet again playing a woman trying to make it on her own without a man but who ends up falling for one anyway – but it’s everyone except for Aniston who makes “The Switch” strangely worth it.

Commercials for “The Switch” have made much of the fact that it’s brought to us by Mandate Pictures, the same production company that helped craft “Juno” in 2007, but there’s little similarity between the two films aside from actor Jason Bateman. That’s not to deny Bateman – who despite some awkward narration works as a man-boy who learns to grow into responsibility – but the film excels because of the sweetly charming Thomas Robinson, the kid that plays his and Aniston’s son. Weirdly neurotic but undeniably adorable, Robinson steals the show, crafting a believable relationship with Bateman that carries the film past romance.

And ultimately, the film is less about the love between a man and woman than it is about the unexpected bond that can develop between a father and son who aren’t even aware of the depth of their relationship. Because of that choice, to leave Bateman’s and Aniston’s characters’ affair in the background and focus instead on Bateman’s connection with Robinson and how they shape each other, the film takes on a greater identity. This isn’t just a movie about two best friends that fall in love – “When Harry Met Sally” already did that, and no one else has done it better since. The analysis of what makes parents such influential caretakers, though, is a more agreeable critique that will get your tears flowing.

“The Switch” begins by setting us in New York City seven years ago, and with some narration from Bateman as Wally, who discusses how “what we crave most in this world is connection.” For people who find their soul mate or ideal partner, “They get to live in a pop song. … But that’s not the way it really works” – and Wally, single, constantly worried and always doubtful of others’ happiness, doesn’t really know if love exists. The only constant in Wally’s life has been his friend Kassie (Aniston); the two briefly dated six years before, but have since remained strictly in the friend zone. But as well as he knows her, though, he’s shocked when she announces that she’s planning on having a baby by herself. And not only does she want to get pregnant, but she hopes the skeptical Wally will help – she’s “in the market for some semen,” and needs his advice to help her weed out the good guys from the bad.

Despite their friendship, though, Wally isn’t at all excited about Kassie’s idea. In fact, a fight with her at her friend Debiet’s (Juliette Lewis) birthday party leads to a time-out between the two, and when they try to patch things up at Kassie’s pregnancy party, he still can’t handle her choice – especially after meeting her sperm donor Roland (Patrick Wilson), a tall, strapping blonde whom the women at the party can’t stop fawning over. To deal with the drama, Wally gets incredibly drunk – and ends up dropping Roland’s sample in a sink of running water, causing him to scramble to figure out how to fix the situation.

Therein is the “switch,” but Wally blacks out later that night and can’t remember anything. And when a pregnant Kassie decides to move back to the Midwest to raise her child with the help of her parents, the friends fall out of touch. It’s only when Kassie decides to move back to NYC seven years later – or the present – that the two reconnect and Wally begins to realize, upon meeting her introspective, animal rights-obsessed and somewhat sensitive son Sebastian (Robinson), that maybe more happened at Kassie’s pregnancy party than what he remembers.

While “Juno” relied on its quirky character traits, like the main character’s cheeseburger phone and absurd slang, as a crutch for character development, “The Switch” successfully uses its characters’ bizarreness as a sympathetic and understandable way to connect them. Before Wally understands that Sebastian may actually be his, not Roland’s, son, the pair’s comparable weirdness – like hypochondria, a tendency to murmur lovingly to their food while eating and leaning the same way against an aquarium glass wall – is a cutesy wink at the power of genetics, both an opportunity for laughs and an appreciation for science’s randomness.

And Sebastian’s most strange characteristic, a penchant for collecting picture frames and keeping the photos in them, is similarly milked for giggles in the beginning of the film. But a later heart-to-heart between him and Wally sends a strong message about the role of family, knowing where we came from and our universal desire to be loved. The film’s story was crafted by author Jeffrey Kent Eugenides, who explored similarly complex family themes in his novels “The Virgin Suicides” and “Middlesex,” and this scene seems like his work – a heavy but touching analysis of parenthood. If the interchange doesn’t make you cry, why are you at this movie?

The film is also successful in juggling its somewhat grown-up subject matter with a realistic approach. Don’t fear an overdone labor scene or crazy drunken hi-jinks; the film chooses not to go to the Judd Apatow route. Instead, there is discussion of single motherhood here, and more often than not Wally looks genuinely upset that he wasn’t picked to be the donor – “What’s wrong with my sperm?” – but there are only a few kisses throughout. Wally gets drunk once, and there’s also an instance of implied drug use, as well as some mild cursing. The only really offensive part of the film is in the very beginning, where Wally encounters a homeless man with Tourrette’s syndrome who discusses everyone on the street corner, cruelly remaking on a woman with a snout-like nose and another with a large chest whom he compares to a prostitute. It’s a jarring scene and doesn’t really add anything to the film’s plotline.

Other than that, “The Switch” is best when it focuses on Wally and Sebastian and the compassion and understanding that comes with growing up and helping others do it, too. Aniston doesn’t really play a role in that, but as an executive producer, she helped create a good thing in “The Switch.”


Roxana Hadadi last reviewed “The Lottery Ticket.”

Also out this week is “Vampires Suck.”


the switch movie poster 1

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