Sometimes when I finish reading a short story, I’m left wondering about the lives of the characters. If the story ends abruptly, I have many questions about what happens next. The Switch, an adaptation of “Baster,” a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides, skillfully develops the lives of the characters far beyond the plot of the story.
In The Switch, Wally (Jason Bateman) and Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) are best friends, although Wally would like them to be more than that. When Kassie decides that she wants to have a baby with a sperm donor, her decision puts enough strain on Wally’s repressed feelings for her to cause a fracture in their friendship. Then, at the party celebrating Kassie’s fertilization, Wally gets a little too inebriated and accidentally spills the sperm sample down the sink. He then replaces it with his own and can’t remember any of it the next day. Kassie moves home for seven years, but when she moves back to New York with her son Sebastian (Thomas and Bryce Robinson), Wally can’t help but notice that the little boy not only looks like him, but shares many of his mannerisms and neuroses too. Now, Wally has to choose between the risk of losing Kassie completely or never being more than Uncle Wally to Sebastian.
Wally is incredibly neurotic, brutally honest, and kind of a flake, but Jason Bateman manages to make him likable. His performance pairs enough affection with the anxiety that Wally actually seems like a fantastic best friend. There’s not really much to say about Jennifer Aniston’s performance because if you’ve seen her in one romantic comedy you’ve pretty much seen her in all of them. As sidekick characters Debbie and Leonard, Juliette Lewis and Jeff Goldblum add much of the comedy to this movie through their interactions with Aniston and Bateman. As Roland, the would-be sperm donor, Patrick Wilson is okay, but his character is woefully underdeveloped. Really, Thomas and Bryce Robinson (who you might remember as the cute kid in Valentine’s Day) steal the show in their performances as Sebastian. Thomas Robinson plays the part most of the time and he is super cute while also giving a really natural performance as an unusually intense kid. He also delivers lines containing big medical words in a believable but funny way.
For a movie with themes about how in the race of life sometimes things fall into place, The Switch is often too meandering and unfocused. It starts and ends strongly, but the middle loses a lot of momentum. I did appreciate, however, that screenwriter Allan Loeb took what could have been a really pedantic ending and underplayed it so that it was neither too sentimental, or preachy.
There is a lot about The Switch that I like. The friendship between Wally and Cassie is fun to watch, if a bit awkward. The banter from the supporting cast often made me laugh out loud. The developing bond between Wally and Sebastian is nothing short of adorable, but isn’t sickeningly sweet because both characters are so difficult. The movie, however, just doesn’t feel like anything special. Perhaps it’s because of the bland chemistry between Bateman and Aniston or the lack-luster voiceovers. Either way, The Switch is good, but not great. 3/5 stars
The Switch was written by Allan Loeb, based on the short story “Baster” by Jeffrey Eugenides, and directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck. It runs 101 minutes and is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual material including dialogue, some nudity, drug use and language.
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