REVIEW: Jason Bateman Comes Into His Own in The Switch

Movieline Score:

theswitch_rev_1.jpgDespite the movie's ad campaign, The Switch isn't Jennifer Aniston's movie, and even she seems to know it. This picture belongs to Jason Bateman, who, after years of playing the second or third banana (and plenty of times being the best thing in a given film), finally gets to show off his considerable gifts as the co-lead in a mainstream comedy. To watch him in The Switch, standing at the stove making pancakes (a lice-proof plastic shower cap pulled over his hair -- don't ask), or bringing the grace of a Gene Kelly routine to a bit in which, hung over, he barfs into an office waste-can, is to see a particular kind of comic intuition at work. For Bateman, there's no distinction to be made between high and low comedy -- he brings neurotic elegance to everything he does.

Bateman plays an overanxious, complicated, sometimes downright annoying New Yorker whose best friend, the 40-ish Kassie (Aniston), has decided to have a baby on her own. Wally and Kassie dated briefly, an episode that happened so long ago it may as well have been part of a previous life. Now they're just extremely close: Kassie tolerates Wally's bizarre habits (like making strange, humming orgasmic sounds while he's enjoying his food); and he provides her with unconditional love and support. Though he's never been able to hang onto a girlfriend for very long, he's more devoted to her than some spouses would be.

So Wally finds himself mildly jealous when Kassie locates a superb male specimen sperm donor (played by a chiseled-from-plastic Patrick Wilson; his character is an adjunct professor at Columbia, and his specialty is "the feminist literary tradition"). One night, his judgment impaired by a potent pill-and-alcohol cocktail, Wally swaps his own sperm for that of the sensitive hunk. (A New York Magazine cover photo of Diane Sawyer proves to be the inspiration for the task at hand.) Then he blacks out and promptly forgets what happened. Kassie becomes pregnant, moves away, and returns to New York seven years later with an overanxious, complicated and sometimes very annoying little boy in tow.

The Switch is ostensibly aimed at women, who are historically sensitive to the loud tick-tocking of the biological clock. But the sneaky surprise of movie -- which was directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory) and adapted, by Allan Loeb, from a story by Jeffrey Eugenides -- is that it focuses more intently on the guy's point of view: What happens when a man who never set out to become a father realizes, six years after the fact, that he's inadvertently helped create a mini-me? That's got to mess with a guy's head.

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  • robotbutler says:

    As a straight, the depth of my man-crush on Bates is almost worrisome. We would be such tight bro's, bro!

  • snarkymark says:

    Good. I'm glad. Jason Bateman was a great lead in Arrested Development, but has generally been wasted in his big screen outings. This was on the list for this weekend, now I'll go for sure.

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    Wallie tries to explain to Cassie what he had done essentially immediately after he recalls his having made the switch 6 years before. Cold sober, scared but vividly intent, he is well on the way to explaining ... and then the movie takes his moment away from him. Very evident that he is in the effort of trying to say something of huge import that he fears will damage both of their lives thereafter, that could ruin everything they shared between one another before then, the movie has her recoil away when her own embarrassing admission "demands" she suddenly stop him in his effort and squirrel back inside her apartment. Better, the movie seems to think, that he make his sin clear at a moment when it would look more last straw and inadequate, which would allow her to announce that future contact would be under her terms and you wouldn't feel that she would even in this still be reckoning with someone with real "sand." She relents because he's there for him, and he's a good guy, not because she found herself struck, shaken in his unmistakably having moved beyond being a best friend you could presume upon. There was touch here of a bracing, but ultimately more here of the "Marley and Me" -- I'm compromised but (apparently, actually, quite depending on this) still happy -- new man.

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    Also, his scenes / time with the kid are great. Enjoyed them a lot.