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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

The Switch (review)

Whoops Dadocalypse!

There are your everyday passive-aggressive Nice Guys, milquetoasty manchildren who always have “good” excuses for being doormats and for not expressing themselves. Real life is rife with them, and the movies are full of them. And then there’s Wally Mars, who deserves some sort of lifetime achievement medal for Most Passive-Aggressive Nice Guy Ever. Wally’s story, The Switch, would also deserve some similar accolade as well, for rewarding the outrageous expression of Wally’s barely repressed hostility toward the woman he supposedly loves with precisely the kind of prize the Nice Guy always thinks he deserves.
The medal would not be for Wally’s belief that six years of not letting his best friend, Kassie Larson, know that he’s in love with her is a “missed opportunity.” Hey, whaddaya gonna do? The moment came and went and now he’s stuck in “the friend box” forever. And telling her he loves her would jeopardize the “friendship,” which is apparently a bad thing, even though it’s more of a “he elevates her to a pedestal upon which she is removed from a genuine participation in the relationship” kind of friendship anyway, and wouldn’t seem to be worth maintaining as it is. But Nice Guys have their own flagellation to answer to.

That kind of crap is run of the mill for the Nice Guy. Suffering silently — or, actually, not so silently, because he complains about his suffering to everyone but Kassie — is his own personal, self-imposed hell, and he’s welcome to it. It is when Kassie informs him of her plan to use a sperm donor to get pregnant that Wally goes ballistic. In a passive-aggressive way, of course. See, Kassie feels that if she’s ever going to have a baby, she can’t wait around for Mr. Right any longer, and you’d think Wally might take that as a hint to finally tell her how he feels about her, even if that means he has to gracefully move on should she turn him down. He doesn’t. Instead, he hijacks her pregnancy. At her impregnation party, he accidentally spills the donated material — he just had to look in the little jar because, I dunno, he’s never seen semen before, perhaps; and also, could this be the most Freudian of Freudian slips ever? — and then he replaces it with his own hastily acquired donated material.

This is all intended to be funny, because Wally is so blindly drunk he cannot remember any of this the next morning. But drunkenness doesn’t make people do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, it merely removes inhibitions. This is Wally’s resentment laid bare: if he can’t have her… well, he is gonna have her anyway, even if she never knows it. That’ll teach her.

This is all intended to be cute and charming, because charming Jason Bateman (Couples Retreat, The Invention of Lying) is playing Wally, and because cute Jennifer Aniston (The Bounty Hunter, Love Happens) is playing Kassie, and it’s like an interminable sitcom up on the screen. Truly unpleasant things don’t happen on sitcoms, only momentarily annoying misunderstandings, and then everything is just fine again by the closing credits, and everyone is happy and dandy. Hoorah!

But The Switch is nasty and mean, a disgusting movie made all the more disgusting by how flippant it is. The script, by Allan Loeb (21) — based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides) — is hamfisted about tough, complicated things like loneliness and single motherhood. It creates far more compelling characters in the secondary friend roles filled by Juliette Lewis (Whip It, Catch and Release) and Jeff Goldblum (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Igby Goes Down). It turns the kid who results from that drunken sperm donation (played, as a six-year-old, by Thomas Robinson) into a caricature of little-kid-ness who is absurdly precocious… though we can probably blame directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (who as a team gave us Blades of Glory) equally for that.

Perhaps the worst thing of all of how The Switch continually ups the Nice Guy ante for Wally. It’s appalling enough what Wally did seven years back, replacing his semen for that of the man Kassie had chosen to be the father of her child. Now, after Kassie has left New York and moved back with the kid, she’s embarking on a relationship with Roland (Patrick Wilson: The A-Team, Watchmen), the original sperm donor, and not for any reason that has anything to do with the fact that (she believes) Roland is her son’s father: Roland is just a great guy, and she really seems to like him very much indeed. And Wally can’t stand it.

Will Wally intervene in the most obnoxious and unfair way possible? You bet. Will he be rewarded for his awful behavior? Of course. Are we meant to take all of it as romantic and adorable? Naturally.

Roland is the real, genuine, authentic nice guy here, and he gets treated like shit. Kassie is a smart, confident, nice gal here, and she gets treated like shit. Wally is a self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish jerk, and he wins it all. What is romantic or charming about this?

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watch at home

MPAA: rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual material including dialogue, some nudity, drug use and language

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
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