'The Change-Up': Becoming Better People

There are certain high concepts that should be retired by Hollywood. Like body-swapping comedies.

The Change-Up

Director: David Dobkin
Cast: Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Olivia Wilde, Leslie Mann
Rated: R
Studio: Universal Pictures
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-08-05 (General release)
UK date: 2011-09-16 (General release)

There are certain high concepts that should be retired by Hollywood. Like body-swapping comedies.

Movies have gone to this well over and over. It can be fun to think about two people who are complete opposites being forced to live in each other’s shoes, even if the conflict and moral lesson are obvious. Among the first treatments was Freaky Friday, where a bickering mother and daughter swapped bodies. Since then, a new body-swapping comedy has emerged every few years. Men switch with women. People with their dogs. Fathers with sons. Old people with young people. Husbands and wives. Nerds and jocks. Donkeys and cats (see Shrek the Third). The variations on this theme seem infinite.

This is not to say the formula can’t be done well or the comedy can't be funny (Being John Malkovich, for example, considers metaphysical consequences). But the repetition can also be wearying. Two characters are unsatisfied with their current lives. They admit it out loud, which leads to a mystical event that results in their consciousnesses swapping bodies. They freak out. First attempts to live as the other person fail miserably. But they start to appreciate exactly the characteristics of the other person that they used to hate. And they learn to better understand their own flaws from the other person’s perspective. Finally, they both become better people through the experience and realize that they really just want to be themselves. The same mystical delivery system returns them to their own bodies, where miraculously their previous situations are better than ever.

The Change-Up follows all these well-worn steps. A driven corporate lawyer and family man, Dave (Jason Bateman), swaps bodies with his childhood friend, slacker bachelor Mitch (Ryan Reynolds). You can guess how their story unfolds.

It begins with a night of drinking, freeing up Dave and Mitch enough to declare they each other’s lives. In a way that is ridiculous even by the lax standards of this genre, the switch happens when they voice their desire out loud while taking a leak into a fountain at the same time. Really. You can almost hear Beavis and Butthead chuckling -- heh heh, they were peeing.

From here, the movies' series of jokes rolls out exactly according to the requirements of the genre. Mitch is really bad at taking care of Dave’s kids, which leads to a scene with babies and knives featuring some of the most poorly rendered CGI in recent memory. Dave is really horrified by Mitch’s sex life, which leads to several R-rated scenes.

It's in these scenes that The Change-Up is unlike most other body-switch movies, which tend to aim at "family" audiences. In riding the wave of recent successful hard-R comedies, however, The Change-Up is obligated to fulfill another set of requirements, namely, at least three raunchy set pieces that have little or nothing to do with the characters or the plot, but are uncomfortable and sexual enough to force a guilty chuckle from the audience. Thus the surprises Dave finds via living out Mitch's sex life, involving an aging porn star, a horny pregnant woman, and the most pervasive comedy crutch in recent years, explosive diarrhea.

This effort to mix and match conventions, though, only reinforces the film's lack of originality. Alas, The Change-Up isn't horrendous enough to kill the body-swapping movie. By all rights, that honor should have gone to The Hot Chick, which set the ick-factor bar by swapping Rob Schneider with a high school girl. In fact, after it gets over the R-rated business during its the first hour, The Change-Up is quite traditional, even borderline heartwarming. Marriage and monogamy are affirmed, and friendship proves to be the strongest force of all. Though pissing in a fountain comes in a close second.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.