Film Review: The Switch

A misjudged lightness of tone and a predictable structure neuter the neuroticism and strange maliciousness of this Jennifer Aniston/Jason Bateman rom-com.

At one point, The Switch may have been a darkly humorous romantic comedy, but it’s had so much plastic surgery you can only look at the too-smooth lines and imagine the wrinkles that used to add character and nuance to its features.

Commercials for the movie tout that it comes from “the people that brought you Little Miss Sunshine and Juno,” but a quirky comedy this is not. Nor is it anything close to the work of Jeffrey Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides), the moody, introspective author whose short story inspired the film. The movie’s greatest fault is not the fact that the screenplay by Allan Loeb hits every rom-com beat with predictable rhythm, but the filmmakers’ reluctance to take risks. Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory) are afraid to raise the stakes and push the likeability of their main character, leaving the movie with some vestigial oddness but otherwise undistinguishable from a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy.

The action stems from what should be a pretty awful violation committed by Wally (Jason Bateman). Upset that his best friend and one-time girlfriend Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) plans to conceive via a sperm donor, he switches the donor sperm with his own. During the incident, he’s supremely drunk and out-of-it on some kind of herbal pill. In case that isn’t enough for the audience, it’s actually a knock on the door that startles him into spilling the sperm into the sink and leading him to replace the goods. He later blacks out and cannot remember what he did until seven years later, when Kassie moves back to New York City with her son, whose neuroticism has striking parallels to his own.

Wally’s actions never seem like anything more than a drunken mistake, reducing his culpability and also his need for redemption. We in the audience simply wait for him to apologize to Kassie, and there’s little doubt that she will eventually forgive him. To create drama, we’re given annoying teases as Wally almost tells Kassie, only for something to intervene. While searching for the “right time” to tell Kassie about his paternity, Wally also has to fend off the Viking-esque sperm donor, Roland (Patrick Wilson). Rugged and sensitive—he’s a professor of feminist literature—Roland falls for Kassie, creating an unconvincing love triangle.

Although The Switch ties itself too closely to the worn, safe path of rom-coms, it does offer some memorable characters and witty dialogue. Jeff Goldblum, as Wally’s best friend, is an immensely talented scene-stealer. He manages to be both sarcastic and spirited at the same time, and his line readings are punctuated by grunts and shifts in pitch that sound almost musical. As Kassie’s best friend, Juliette Lewis fills a much quieter supporting role, though she is responsible for the over-the-top, sperm-themed decorations and fertility statues at Kassie’s “I’m Getting Pregnant!” party, which give Wally the opportunity to switch the sperm.

The relationship with the most spark is not that of Wally and Kassie, but Wally and his son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson). Seeing these two anxious misfits find each other brings to mind About a Boy. When Sebastian gravitates to Wally, not his mom, after he’s bullied, we know that they are meant for each other. The relationship is sealed when the squeamish Wally picks lice out of Sebastian’s hair. It’s the closest we come to a character transformation, as both hypochondriacs confront their fear of disease. In fact, it’s the relationship between father and son that truly unites Wally and Kassie, as if the shared genes that created their child have pulled them together retroactively.

The Switch falls into the middle of the pack of the romantic-comedy genre; as far as summer movies go, there are far worse pairings for a soda and bag of popcorn. But Jason Bateman’s Woody Allen-like turn and the intermittently clever dialogue only make you wonder what this movie could have been if it weren’t trying so hard to be just another romantic comedy.