Sweet and Sour Mix in The Switch
- 2010 20 Aug
DVD Release Date: March 15, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: August 20, 2010 (limited)
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic content, sexual material including dialogue, some nudity, drug use and language)
Run Time: 101 min.
Director: Josh Gordon and Will Speck
Actors: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Victor Pagan
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following review contains discussion of adult subject matter. Parents, please use caution when allowing children to read.
There's no use dancing around the meaning of the title The Switch: It refers to sperm. Specifically, it refers to the sperm of Wally Mars and "Roland the donor" (Patrick Wilson), a sperm donor handpicked by Kassie Larson (Jennifer Aniston) to be the father of her first child. "I don't need a man to have a baby," Kassie explains to longtime friend Wally early in The Switch. "I am in the market for some semen."
Wally has feelings for Kassie, but she's just not that into him. So she selects Roland, a stranger, as her sperm donor, leading Wally, under the influence of alcohol and drugs, to switch Roland's semen for his own.
You get the idea. This is a comedy about bodily fluids, with a few funny moments that unfold during the switch that give the film its title. But this is also a character-driven comedy about a man's slow awakening to the possibility that he's found someone he can spend his life with, and a responsibility to someone other than himself.
With the help of a friend (Jeff Goldblum), Wally slowly comes to realize that he loves Kassie, and that he has an obligation to care for her child. The question is whether Kassie cares for Wally in a way that will allow him into her life and the life of her son, Sebastian.
The film has the trappings of a shock comedy, but after walking the line of bad taste in setting up the premise, the film settles into a traditional tale of how a child softens a self-absorbed adult. The transition is not unwelcome, as The Switch gets warmer and sweeter as it unfolds. Whether audiences embrace the film depends on their tolerance for the odd mix of raunch and personal rehabilitation seen in other movies, although not combined quite the way they are here.
Bateman has built a career on memorable supporting performances, beginning as a child actor on TV in the 1980s (Silver Spoons) and then, after working steadily for years, coming into his own as an adult on the ensemble comedy Arrested Development. He solidified his place as a notable character actor in Hollywood films such as Smokin' Aces, State of Play and Up in the Air, but his recent attempt to break into leading-man territory, in Mike Judge's Extract, never found an audience. It didn't help that Bateman was upstaged in Judge's film by Ben Affleck as a laid-back bartender—the kind of scene-stealing supporting performance that has been Bateman's bread and butter. In The Switch, he's almost upstaged again, this time by Goldblum as an unapologetic hedonist who nevertheless manages to dispense a few words of wisdom to Wally.
Jennifer Aniston has had more success transitioning from TV to movies, although the star of Friends, one of the most popular sitcoms of its era, had more to lose in the transition than Bateman ever did. She's managed to piece together an interesting movie career, mixing big-budget romantic comedies (Bruce Almighty, The Break-Up) with smaller films that established her serious-acting credentials (The Good Girl, Friends with Money). The results have been up and down in both categories, continuing with the recent hit Marley & Me and disappointment The Bounty Hunter.
The Switch keeps Aniston firmly in romantic-comedy territory. The film plays like an extended TV sitcom—usually a bad thing for a big-screen film, but not such a knock here, given that audiences are accustomed to seeing the two lead performers on the small screen. There's a comfort level with these performers, and though they're not breaking any new ground in The Switch, the film provides a few laughs and goes easy on the outrageous humor it might have emphasized had it been rated R.
Instead of raunch, the movie reaches for sappiness, as Wally spends time with Sebastian, helping the boy confront a bully and offering a few life lessons for his offspring. The dad/son bonding is sweet at times but also an obvious ploy to pull in family audiences. It's a difficult balancing act that the film doesn't quite pull off. Family audiences are unlikely to enjoy the early part of the film, while the crowd that does enjoy the early humor might not feel similarly engaged by the warm and fuzzy family message the film ultimately tries to put across.
If it comes across as pandering at times, at least the film doesn't descend into the sexual gags and ever more shocking humor that have become commonplace in today's comedies. Considering the way the film could have gone, the final result comes as a relief, if not exactly a film that can be recommended.
- Language/Profanity: Numerous uses of "Oh my God"; "b-tch"; "d-mn": "holy s-it"; "kick your as-"; name-calling; discussion of semen, including crude terminology.
- Smoking/Drinking/Drugs: Drinks are consumed at a party and shown in bottles later; smoking and drug use; mention of picking up drugs; a joke that Sebastian prefers hard alcohol; Wally drinks from a bottle of liquor.
- Sex/Nudity: We see reactions to a photo of a growth on Wally's scrotum, but not the photo itself; Wally's friend tells him the grown men have sex with their female friends; Kassie throws an "I'm getting pregnant" party; kissing; a statue and painting of a deity include large breasts; Wally prepares to masturbate while staring at a magazine cover; a stage actor's bare backside is shown; his front side is shown briefly from a distance, out of focus; Sebastian cites lack of sexual desire among symptoms of a medical condition; Kassie says Sebastian thinks she's a lesbian because the other single moms he knows are lesbians; Kassie is shown in a nightie.
- Violence/Crime: Vomiting; Sebastian shows wounds from being beaten by a bully.
- Religion: Discussion of the role of "fate" in bringing people together
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