The Switch (Gordon & Speck, 2010)

Earlier this summer, i said that the most important thing to know about The Other Guys was that it was funny.

Probably the most important thing to know about The Switch is that it is not.

This is not necessarily as damning a pronouncement as it might initially appear to be, though.  The film’s advertising references Little Miss Sunshine, and what humor there is here is more of the bittersweet, “or else you’d cry” variety. The best scenes are of the more sentimental variety and usually take place between Jason Bateman and child actor Thomas Robinson.

Maybe the second most important thing to know is that The Switch is not really a Jenifer Aniston movie. She’s sweet and pretty in one of those dreary romantic comedy type of roles where her job is to fall for the jerk while ignoring the guy who is seemingly perfect for her, all while trying to not come across as a narcissistic, self-absorbed nincompoop. The film accomplishes this feat in pure sitcom fashion, by having characters forever on the verge of saying what an actual human being would say, only to be interrupted by a contrivance that makes it never the right moment to state the obvious.

Again, though, I’m speaking about the conventions of the romantic comedy, and The Switch isn’t so much incompetent about these conventions as it is ambivalent about them. The real chemistry is between father and son, and if that means we only really want Aniston and Bateman to get together so that we can see more interactions between Bateman and Robinson then that’s enough–so long as we don’t realize that the only thing that would be lost without the Kassie character would be the contrived excuses necessitating emergency baby sitting. I had this quixotic notion in the last five minutes of the film that I was watching a prequel to John Hillcoat’s The Road.

While I am on the subject of The Switch not really being a romantic comedy and not really being a Jenifer Aniston film, I may as well go ahead an just say that I think this film has the single worst movie poster I can remember. Yeah, picking on advertising is a bit like watching sports and complaining about stadium food, but, I mean, who exactly saw the shot of Bateman grimacing into an open, used semen receptacle and said, “That’s our one sheet!”

Of course, the poster’s confusion about what sort of movie The Switch is–raunchy comedy, romantic comedy, emotional bildungsroman–is symptomatic of a larger confusion about who the film’s target audience is. Guys who think life would be so much better if they discovered they had a son? Women who want to fantasize about getting pregnant out of wedlock and then movie away from their supporting network of friends for seven years?

And yet, for all that, the film works a bit more often than it has any business doing. The main reason for that is Bateman, whose talent is such that he occasionally lulls you into believing you are watching a real human being responding to a real situation with real emotion rather than a character responding to a situation for which there is no realistic response. I’d love to see what he could do with a role that was a bit more substantive.

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