A few months ago, I was especially harsh on The Back-Up Plan, a rotten little romantic comedy about a woman who decides to get herself artificially inseminated. Now we have The Switch, which is about the same thing. It’s an improvement, although not by much, I’m sorry to say. That’s because it makes slightly smaller versions of the exact same mistakes: It takes an engaging idea and robs it of just about anything meaningful, leaving behind a series of jokes that are stretched to the breaking point. It gets off to a promising start, but it slowly goes downhill, and it often rides over bumps and potholes that threaten to throw the whole thing off course. We then reach an ending so conventional, it’s practically a wet blanket. Given the choice between the two, I’d rather you see The Switch. Given any choice, I’d rather you miss both.
Adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides’ short story “Baster,” The Switch is founded on a premise the ads have given away but I feel obligated to keep secret. That will make it awfully difficult to describe, although I think I’d be doing a favor for those who have managed to avoid the ads. Taking place in New York City, it tells the story of Kassie (Jennifer Aniston), who wants to have a baby but is tired of waiting around for Mr. Right. She decides to have herself artificially inseminated. Her neurotic best friend of many years, Wally (Jason Bateman), is against the idea, especially after meeting her sperm donor, the handsome, charming, athletic Roland (Patrick Wilson). The deed is done at, of all places, an insemination party hosted by Kassie’s outrageous girlfriend, Debiet (Juliette Lewis).
Part of the problem is that Wally has never had the nerve to admit to Kassie his feelings for her. Wally’s work buddy, Leonard (Jeff Goldblum), makes it clear that he missed his chance to make his move, that she has officially put him into a “friend zone.”
Years pass. Kassie has given birth to a son, Sebastian. They live for a while in Minnesota, Kassie’s home state. Then they return to New York, giving Wally the chance to meet Sebastian. This is the point at which the review will become annoyingly vague. I can say that little Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) is one of the most unrealistic child characters of recent memory; he says and does things no child would ever say or do. He forms a relationship of sorts with Wally, and the two share conversations that real adults and children would never, ever have. Their dialogue, their general togetherness, is so awkward and strained that I never once believed the two could ever bond. If you’re reading this and you already know the secret I’m so desperately trying to keep hidden, you should understand why I feel this way. Honestly, has there been a more implausible adult/child pairing of any movie this year?
The overall tone of the film is odd. Not pleasantly odd, but odd in that creepy, underhanded way that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Part of this stems from the performances, which are decent enough but lack any real depth. Goldblum in particular is his usual one-note self, delivering every line with the exact same volume and emotional range. He has relied on this persona for far too long. Wilson’s character smiles a lot and seems likeable, and yet there’s always something about him that makes you think he’s about ready to snap. Every scene with him is an exercise in tension, and not the good kind you would see in a Hitchcock film. He just made me feel … uncomfortable. I can’t quite put my finger on it. If you see the film, maybe you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
As for Juliette Lewis’ character, all I can say I’m glad she was given such little screen time. Lewis is a wonderful actress, but here she seems remarkably out of place, a woman I could never imagine someone like Kassie being friends with. She’s irritating. She’s bizarre. She would be someone you would talk about behind her back, not necessarily with hostility, but definitely with the certainty that something isn’t quite right about her.
So there you have it. I’ve managed to avoid describing the crux of the story, a secret that pretty much everyone already knows about. Needless to say, the title does more than its fair share of spoiling the plot. Such a shame. Individually, there are recommendable things about The Switch. Bateman’s character, annoyingly hung-up though he may be, lends a certain charm to the story that cuts though a lot of the oddness. And Aniston’s character, while fairly straightforward, is played competently enough for us to care about her. But as a whole, the film just doesn’t hit the right notes; it plays like a symphony with a section off key. Perhaps if the filmmakers had rethought Robinson’s character and his interactions with Bateman, there might have been something here worth seeing.