'The Switch' Is a Fresh Conception

It may not make up for its genre's recent shortcomings, but The Switch deserves a much larger audience than it got in theaters.

The Switch

Director: Josh Gordon, Will Speck
Cast: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis
Length: 101 minutes
Studio: Bona Fide Productions, Echo Films, Mandate Pictures
Year: 2010
Distributor: Lionsgate
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual material including dialogue, some nudity, drug use and language
Release date: 2011-03-15

As a genre, romantic comedies have been stuck in a rut for some time now. Gone are the days of studying the various elements that bring people together. Quality pictures like When Harry Met Sally… and Annie Hall are an endangered species, and what’s taken their place is a stack of situational comedies. The only important elements of modern rom-coms are the two lead actors and what goofy predicament keeps their characters apart for 90 percent of the film.

The Switch employs one movie star and one veteran actor to portray what happens when one friend decides to have a baby and the other friend tricks her into using his sperm. A novel concept indeed, and, at least for the first two-thirds, directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck make the most of it. Laughs are aplenty and enjoyment will undoubtedly be had by all, but The Switch still fails to elevate itself past the standards set by its genre’s most recent incarnations.

Instead of wallowing in despair or constantly whining about the current state of the genre, why not embrace these trivial films for exactly what they are – shut-your-brain-off entertainment? Like their brethren in the action genre, romantic comedies can still serve their purpose as date night conversation material (preferably at home, considering ticket prices). Unless you’re endlessly frustrated by their safe, PC nature, a light-hearted first-date banter is almost impossible to avoid with even the lesser tales.

The Switch requires its viewers to stay focused on what it deems most important: that Wally and Kassie should be together. Though its plot brings up some serious moral dilemmas worth discussing, screenwriter Allan Loeb knows these topics are much too heavy for mass audiences. He, Mr. Gordon, and Mr. Speck instead boil down the ideas into the central theme of bravery. Wally is afraid to tell Kassie his feelings. He’s actually a Woody Allen-level narcissist (which makes the New York setting all the more fitting), afraid of going bald, of physical activity, and of all sorts of diseases. This sets up a truth-conquers all climax nicely while still leaving out all the messy follow-up conversations about how and why he did the deed.

Like with all films, there are still your spectacular failures and even a few outright originals. For the most part, though, modern romances all land somewhere near the middle. They’re designed that way – to land between a 3 and a 6. So if you start with a script made for mediocrity, what can push it up to the respectable level of a 5 or a 6? It’s the actors and that goofy predicament, of course.

We already know the switch that takes place in The Switch is a fresh conception, but it took a truly great performance from Jason Bateman and a carefully crafted character as written by Mr. Loeb to keep the viewers from consciously questioning Wally’s ethics. As written, Wally is a good guy who makes a life-altering mistake (actually, lives-altering). Messing with someone’s kid is a topic automatically taboo in cinema. If used, it almost always designates the character as evil, cruel, or at least the antagonist. Here, somehow, he’s the protagonist.

Loeb pulls off this almost magical switcheroo by (and Jeffrey Eugenides who wrote the short story the film is based on) always putting Wally in the right situations. While never afraid to voice his opinion on Kassie’s decisions, Wally is always the supportive friend in the end. He’s the guy who gives up what he really wants to help those he loves. We’ve seen it before sure, but never with Bateman’s quiet yearning. He never complains about his own predicament, only how he believes Kassie is doing something she will eventually regret. Bateman portrays Wally with almost constant frustration. Whether he’s masking his feelings with booze at Kassie’s conception party or spitting out restrained shots at Roland, the would-be father, Bateman has a fire in his eyes that shows just how much he cares about this woman. His exasperated depiction of a character desperate to find happiness really hits home.

Aniston does a fine job herself, always providing just the right amount of laughter or just enough of a smile to let us know that she knows Wally oh so well -- but Kassie is a more of a secondary character to Wally. She’s his focus, thus making his desires more intriguing. Aniston also amps up her intensity in a few pivotal scenes, reminding the viewer that Kassie’s no pushover and she won’t settle for a man draped in fear, even if he is her best friend.

The bonus features on the Blu-ray release are fair for a tick-above-average rom-com. A making-of featurette runs just shy of 15-minutes and includes interviews with the directors, producers, and all the actors. There are only a few juicy tidbits, mainly of Bateman’s boisterous demeanor behind the scenes, but it’s as much as anyone willing to watch could have expected. The deleted scenes and alternate ending combine for a whopping 23-minutes of footage, none of which is made up of any “alternate take” b.s. It’s all new material, and even the alternate ending adds an element to the story untold in the original. Judge for yourself which ending is best, but the unused conclusion certainly adds some justice for both Wally and Roland’s characters.

The Switch doesn’t reverse the downward trend of its genre, and some may even argue it misses a grand opportunity to elevate it. For what it is, though, the film stands just above the middle-level muck by putting time and care into those two factors that matter for all films: character and development.

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