It has been reported that The Switch co-star Jennifer Aniston is unhappy with the decision by Miramax to switch the title of her latest film from a more aptly named The Baster, a much more accurate decision of what's going on and infinitely more faithful to Jeffrey Eugenides' original short story, a 1996 piece simply called Baster.
Did Miramax think that The Baster would be too vague and fly above the heads of the average moviegoer? Sadly, they may have had a point.
The mere fact that Aniston has openly stated her presence for the film's original title likely points to exactly what Aniston signed on to this project, essentially a formulaic, character-driven romantic comedy about artificial insemination that shows glimpses of genuine insight and irreverent humor wrapped nicely with a bow of Hollywood style paint-by-numbers romantic dialogue that follows a methodical, predictable story arc.
The weird thing is that as much as virtually everything in The Switch is straight out of Screenwriting 101, the simple truth is that The Switch is a surprisingly entertaining, heartfelt and frequently funny film that manages to succeed where so many films just like it have completely failed.
If you're finding yourself thinking "Haven't we already seen this theme this year with Jennifer Lopez's Back-Up Plan?," then think again. The similarities between the two films end with their common central characters...women who've reached the point in their lives where they're tired of sitting around and waiting for Mr. Right to come along so that they can have a family. So, they take matters into their own hands.
Okay, well, vaginas.
Aniston is Kassie, a television producer whose biological clock is ticking but none of her relationships are clicking. She decides to go off in search of the perfect "seed man," a plan that horrifies her BFF, Wally (Jason Bateman), who is also a one-time boyfriend long since relegated to the friend zone. "Seed Man" shows up in the "Viking" persona of Roland (Patrick Wilson), an attractive and intelligent teacher with a beautiful wife but a not so beautiful income.
But, this is a comedy. This is irreverent. This is based in New York and, let's face it, we all know that there's still this unacknowledged spark between Kassie and Wally. Kassie's modestly psycho galpal Debbie (Juliette Lewis) turns the entire planting of the seed into a party, the alcohol is flowing, Roland serves forth his contribution and, well, Wally kinda sorta intervenes.
Before long, Kassie decides to move out of New York City and back to Minnesota to raise her child.
Seven years later, she returns with Sebastian (younger Sebastian is played by Thomas Robinson, older Sebastian by his brother Bryce), an eerily neurotic hypochondriac with a festering personality disorder and the social skills of a, hmmm, Wally. Perhaps?
Co-directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon, the same team that gave us Blades of Glory, The Switch follows a predictable trajectory to the expected conclusion but manages to be one of those films that proves that "formula" can still entertain when assembled by the right hands.
While the role of Kassie isn't a particular stretch for Jennifer Aniston, Aniston brings her to life wondrously in what is easily one of her most satisfying, relaxed and emotionally resonant performances in recent years. The real revelation in the film, however, may be Jason Bateman. It would be almost impossible to deny that Bateman has practically cornered the market on dryly sarcastic comic characters. Here, however, Bateman is allowed to flex his acting muscles with a performance that is frequently heartwarming, tender and vulnerable. While he's not likely to win any acting awards any time soon, Bateman's turn her is reminiscent of Hugh Grant's serio-comic turn in About a Boy, a film that captured Grant at his absolute best. We've all known that Bateman could be funny, but who knew he could wax dramatic so well?
If anyone steals Bateman's thunder, it may very well be the young acting duo of siblings Thomas and Bryce Robinson. The siblings are wonderfully spot-on as the neurotic yet adorable Sebastian, and their ability to fine tune their performances to nicely parallel that of Bateman's is both touching and frequently funny.
Where has Juliette Lewis been, anyway? Lewis is a comic delight here, either orgasmic at the chance to shine onscreen again or simply serving notice that she's back in action and ready to go. She's matched note-for-note by Jeff Goldblum, as Wally's pal, confidante, employer, etc.
The Switch is the first film in quite some time to capture the fullness of Jason Bateman's acting gifts and the wondrous humanity that permeates Aniston's screen presence. Whereas so many filmmakers would have tossed in unnecessary gimmicks and goofball humor, Speck and Gordon wisely allow The Switch to rest solely on the strength of its characters and the actors who play them. Aniston, Bateman and the entire supporting cast reward this trust with their most engaging, appealing performances in years.
While The Switch is far too formulaic to ever approach being called a great film, it does manage to rise above the mediocrity that has defined 2010's romantic comedies.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic