Review: The Switch

Set in NY, Jennifer Aniston is somewhere in the vicinity of middle age and although a successful TV producer, is unhappily single in her personal life. Her biological clock is ticking and she has put an ad in the paper wanting a sperm donor for artificial insemination. She has a perfectly decent, if pessimistic BFF in Jason Bateman, who offers up his own sperm (but dare not confess his love for her, I might add), but in the end, sperm donor Patrick Wilson is chosen. Aniston holds herself an ‘Insemination Party’ that both Bateman and Wilson (who is married and simply doing the deed for the money) attend. Bateman gets drunk and stoned out of his gourd, and after an unfortunate accident in the bathroom (and not the kind you’re thinking), the sperm sample is lost and Bateman replaces it. With his own sample. Before long, Aniston is pregnant, and Bateman, because he was out of his mind, doesn’t tell her of the mishap because he doesn’t seem to even remember it. Time passes and Aniston has moved away to raise her son, but returns seven years later with young Thomas Robinson, and wants to catch up with old pal Bateman. Once Bateman has spent just a few minutes with the miserable and neurotic Robinson, the startling similarities begin to spark unhappy memories for Bateman. Meanwhile, sperm donor Wilson also reappears, newly (and unhappily) divorced, and he and Aniston begin seeing each other. Bateman, is naturally completely jealous. Juliette Lewis plays Aniston’s makeup artist gal pal, and Jeff Goldblum is Bateman’s business partner and confidante.

It’s a good thing that this 2010 romantic comedy from directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon is funny, because it sure as hell doesn’t work in the romantic department. Part of the problem is my general hatred of Jennifer Aniston. In all of the films I’ve seen her in (dating back to 1993’s “Leprechaun”), she gives the same performance with the same annoying mannerisms. That is to say, she plays Rachel, even in the aforementioned “Leprechaun”, which was before “Friends” came about. I hated her character on “Friends” (a show I’ll admit to watching and enjoying until it became the Ross and Rachel Show and ruined just about every subsequent TV show that had to have a similar romantic focus), and find her inability to do anything else really frustrating. So when one half of your romantic couple is played by an actress I can’t stand giving the same performance that I loathe, that’s a big problem to overcome.

Then you add the film’s premise and the other romantic lead of the film, played much more successfully by Jason Bateman. Bateman is funny and likeable, but his character is a complete idiot. Worse, he’s an unrealistic, plot-driven idiot. The only reason why his character accidentally drops the sperm sample and replaces it with his own is because it forms the film’s central premise. No one in reality (I hope) would ever do that. Why didn’t he just own up straight away? Because there’d be no film. I can live with that absence, to be honest. He could easily own up at any point in the film, and any reasonable person would do so, surely. So I was always aware I was watching a movie, and a movie with a dopey, and frankly unseemly premise for a romantic comedy. Bateman’s character is also an idiot for another reason: He loves Aniston, and we the audience see she clearly wants him to make a move (at least at one point anyway) and he doesn’t...even though it’s what he wants. He’s too neurotic to either see it or to do anything about it. So we have to put up with this guy sulking neurotically about a situation he created through his own stupidity (getting drunk and switching sperm samples- and revenge for being rejected might’ve even played a part there), and put up with him pining for a girl he actually had a chance with, but was too stupid to notice. So who in the hell wants to see a creepy loser and a one-note actress get together by the end of the film? Not me. Also, who in the hell holds insemination parties? That’s self-absorbed, weird, and disgusting if you ask me. I’m all for artificial insemination, but a party? What the hell?

Like I said, the whole premise rubbed me the wrong way because it’s all just too apparently contrived, even for the genre. The clunky structure in the screenplay by Allan Loeb doesn’t help. The film takes place over a too long period of time, but perhaps spending too long on the set-up in particular. It just plays out in rather lumpy fashion and might’ve been better served with a longer running time.

You must think I hate this film, right? Nope, it ultimately ends up tolerable, if not very persuasive. Part of this is because of the performances by Jason Bateman, and especially a scene-stealing Jeff Goldblum. Bateman tries his best to make us like his rather stupid character, and his scenes with young Robinson are occasionally affecting. Goldblum, meanwhile, is in fine form here. His idiosyncratic mannerisms and speech patterns (which unlike Aniston, I actually like, so I don’t care if they’re familiar) are off the charts here. His line readings are hilariously warped to the point where you can’t even tell if he’s being sincere or not, but amazingly it works. I used to think Goldblum had to be on some kind of mind-altering substance, but no, he’s just loopy Jeff Goldblum and who would want him any other way? He’s one of the great scene-stealers. Juliette Lewis, one of the most grating presences in the history of cinema, is for once, palatable here.

As previously stated, the film is actually quite funny at times (as was “Blades of Glory”, a stupid-fun film from the same directors), especially whenever Goldblum is on screen. Bateman’s early encounter with a seriously insensitive homeless guy (at least I think he was homeless) with Tourette’s is hysterically funny stuff.

It’s such a shame. I like some of this film, but the basic premise is horribly inappropriate for the genre and Jennifer Aniston doesn’t act, she simply plays her one note for the hundredth time. Loeb’s screenplay is based on a short story by Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides.

Rating: C+


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