Friday, August 27, 2010

'Switch' is a better than average rom-com thanks to Bateman and Goldblum

“The Switch,” a straight-forward romantic comedy with a modern twist, isn't a groundbreaking film, but it is one with many small pleasures that add up to an appealing overall experience.

Although Jennifer Aniston gets top-billing as Kassie, a 40ish woman who turns to artificial insemination, this is really Jason Bateman's film. Bateman stars as Wally, Kassie's best friend who secretly yearns for more.

Wally is hurt when Kassie turns to a sperm donor named Roland (Patrick Wilson) rather than to him. He is a neurotic hypochondriac and she doesn't want those traits for her offspring. In a drunken stupor Wally switches his sperm in place of the donor's. Conveniently enough he blacks out and forgets the switcheroo.

Flash forward seven years and Wally meets Kassie's son (Thomas Robinson) and notices more than a few of his traits in him. The rest of the film is Wally getting up the nerve to tell Kassie the truth while at the same time dealing with the fact that she is now dating Roland.

The set-up is needlessly convoluted and the story follows what Roger Ebert calls an “idiot plot” in which everything could be resolved if the characters just talked, but then you wouldn't have a movie. Execution goes a long way to making an idiot plot palatable, and luckily the cast and directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck find ways to over come a sometimes clunky script.

Allan Loeb's screenplay, much like his script for “21,” is pure formula, but individual scenes and lines work and hold things together. The tone of the piece leans more toward comedy drama of something like Billy Wilder's “The Apartment” than the frantic, forced comedy of recent romantic comedies.

Bateman, a fantastic deadpan comedian, shows a more dramatic and sincere side that gives the film a strong center. His scenes with Robinson have unexpected tenderness and sweetness. Robinson's Sebastian collects frames, but keeps the photos that come with the frames. He creates stories for each photo. The scene in which he explains this to Bateman sneaks up on you and is surprisingly affecting.

The film's wildcard is Jeff Goldblum as Bateman's friend and boss. It is a throwaway role of the male lead's confidant, but Goldblum brings such gusto and panache that he nearly hijacks the movie. He has such a unique line delivery that he can even take standard dialogue and make it hilarious. Just watch how he works the not intrinsically funny line “that is ill-advised” for all it is worth.

Juliette Lewis has similar duty as Aniston's eccentric friend, and like Goldblum she was an energy all her own that helps to invigorate every scene she's in. Lewis and Goldblum are reminders of how good supporting actors can help take a movie from average to above average.
Their presence in scenes ups everyone's game.

Aniston is fine and knows know to deliver a barbed line, but she is more of a plot point than a character. The story requires her to have the kid and for Bateman to woo her and that's about it. It is a relief, though, that her character isn't made into a shrill, high-strung twit, an all-too-common portrayal of women in romantic comedies these days.

Wilson has an even more thankless role. His only function is to complicate things for the two leads. It is a tried and true love triangle formula and it is played honestly, but with little substance.

In spite of its familiarity and shortcomings, “The Switch” works, not so much as a romantic comedy, but as father-son film. The scenes between Bateman and Robinson really are charming and special and, along with the excellent support of Goldblum and Lewis, that's enough to make this worth a peek.

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