The Switch -- Film Review

"The Switch"
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Despite a virtually unplayable premise, "The Switch" overcomes this handicap to turn itself into a friendly, offbeat romantic comedy. Bright spots come in performances by Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman as the leads, with Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis adding sparkle in the roles of best friends. The Miramax film will have to rely the actors' drawing power if it hopes to score midlevel boxoffice grosses with this release by Disney.

In a year of comedies dealing with artificial insemination, from "The Back-Up Plan" to "The Kids Are All Right," "Switch" certainly takes the least plausible angle on the subject. The film imagines that Bateman's Wally, a Wall Street investment guru, has been in love with Aniston's Kassie forever, but because she has put him in the "friendship zone," he won't admit this to anyone, including himself. When she decides to get pregnant, he is more than willing to provide the sperm, but Kassie prefers to go shopping for the perfect sperm donor.

She settles on Patrick Wilson's dashing Roland. Lewis, as best gal pal Debbie, throws an "insemination party" for Kassie, where an agitated Wally ingests drugs and downs booze until he is wasted enough to substitute his sperm for Roland's. Yes, he does.

Then you're asked to believe Wally is so drunk he can't even remember doing this. The memory does gradually return to him seven years later, when Kassie returns to Manhattan with a 6-year-old son, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), who is neurotic, pessimistic and nurtures a dark side -- just like Uncle Wally. Are you buying any of this?

You might as well because the film contains bright moments of comedy, especially whenever Wally relates his Kassie confessions to business partner Leonard (Goldblum) and touching moments of drama in the developing relationship between a father and son who don't yet realize their blood ties.

The film could have used sharper scenes between Aniston and Bateman. The model here is too Woody Allen-ish, with Wally's neuroses and kvetching dominating their scenes without any real romantic spark. A romantic comedy needs at least some romance between its leads.

Alan Loeb penned the script from a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides, and you can imagine that the premise played better on paper. The first half of the film, the "seven years ago" section, wobbles because the male is frozen in inaction and the female is all frantic action. But in the second half, beginning when Kassie and Sebastian return from Minnesota, directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck ("Blades of Glory") hit their stride.

There is more warmth between Wally and Kassie because of her motherhood and Wally's increasing interest in her son. And the ways the film finds to contrast father and son -- their shared hypochondria, for instance -- bring a few chuckles. A complication is introduced when Kassie begins to date her sperm donor, but the film treats Roland so cavalierly that it's hard to take seriously this threat to the potential romance between Wally and Kassie.
Technical credits are smooth.

Opens: Friday, Aug. 20 (Disney)
Production: Miramax Films and Mandate Pictures present a Bona Fide/Echo Films production
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, Thomas Robinson
Directors: Josh Gordon, Will Speck
Screenwriter: Alan Loeb
Based on a short story by: Jeffrey Eugenides
Producers: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa
Executive producers: Nathan Kahane, Jennifer Aniston, Kristen Hahn
Director of photography: Jess Hall
Production designer: Adam Stockhausen
Music: Alex Wurman
Costume designer: Kasia Walicka Maimone
Editor: John Axelrad
Rated PG-13, 101 minutes
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