I discovered something important about myself when I watched The Switch. I discovered that I can endure 101 minutes of pure saccharine filmmaking without catching The Diabetes. I have no problem with earnest filmmaking that’s unafraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. I do have a problem with transparently manipulative filmmaking that wastes the comic talents of its lead actor. A few clever one-liners sneak past this sitcom-level humor, but The Switch stands more as an endurance test of sugary storytelling rather than a heart-warming picture.
The Switch is a movie I can see as being edgy at one point before it was dulled down completely. The story follows Wally (Jason Bateman), a hapless, neurotic curmudgeon who’s stuck in the friend zone with Kassie (Jennifer Aniston). When Kassie wants to get pregnant, she hires alpha-male Roland (Patrick Wilson) to be a sperm donor, which of course Wally resents. At an “insemination party” (which everyone at the party treats like a baby shower instead of something that’s shows we’ve run out of occasions to celebrate), sad drunken Wally accidentally pours Roland’s little men down the drain and then replaces the sample with his own. Wally then blacks-out and forgets the whole evening, Kassie gets pregnant, moves away, and comes back seven years later with a six-year-old kid named Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) who is weird and neurotic like Wally. Wally figures out he’s Sebastian’s father and then has to finally man up and tell Kassie the truth about the seed-swap and his true feelings for her or else she’ll go off with Roland, who has also come back into her life.
“She wouldn’t know prime sperm if it came along and slapped her in the face.”
There are moments where The Switch, which was originally called “The Baster” because of the device a woman uses for artificial insemination, has an edge and a fun joke. Those moments add up to maybe five minutes of the one hour and forty-one minute runtime. All the edges of the movie have been sanded down because what the film thinks is “edgy” is actually softer than the most banal TV sitcom (Two and a Half Men). The kid is weird because he’s a hypochondriac and uses big words. It’s funny because the kid thinks he’s full of diseases! Dark (but not really)!
It’s also not clear why Wally has feelings for Kassie other than she’s pretty. She has no character and I don’t think Aniston even gets to crack a joke. Kassie’s purpose in the movie is to provide a plot and joke set-ups to Wally. While I think Bateman is currently one of the best actors out there, he couldn’t look more bored in this movie. Part of that is because Wally is detached and indifferent to the world, but even his pessimistic quips are delivered without much energy. The observational deadpan that Bateman has pulled off so beautifully in the past feels sullen and disinterested in this movie.
But what really grates in The Switch is the unrelenting sentiment. Here’s the entire movie: Wally is a jerk but he becomes a better person when he discovers his paternal instincts. All the scenes between Wally and Sebastian revolve around Wally realizing a bizarre and comedic similarity between the two and then a moment of bonding. There are at least four scenes in the movie that serve to remind the audiences that Wally is an innately good father to Sebastian.
For such a weightless film, you feel every second of The Switch. When your biggest laughs come from Jeff Goldblum (who plays Wally’s friend) essentially doing a parody of himself, you have a serious problem with your comedy. Because it puts sappiness ahead of humor, The Switch feels more like a Hallmark drama rather than the edgy comedy indicated by its premise.