by KYW’s Bill Wine —
Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston have lots in common.
Both earned their spurs in TV comedy — on “Arrested Development” and “Friends,” respectively. Both are valuable big-screen ensemble contributors who are largely unheralded. And both have natural screen personas and razor-sharp comic timing.
That’s never been more apparent than in The Switch, the third mainstream movie in the last few months, following The Back-Up Plan and The Kids Are All Right, to address or involve the suddenly-fertile topic of artificial insemination.
Interestingly, playing seemingly star-crossed soulmates, Aniston and Bateman convey sufficient romantic chemistry with a minimum of demonstrativeness or fuss.
And here’s a switch: while the premise of (and trailer for) The Switch may make it look crass or raunchy, it’s neither. Instead, it’s improbably sensitive, admirably nuanced, consistently funny, and surprisingly heartwarming.
Bateman is Wally, a downbeat New York City equities analyst. His best friend, Kassie, a television producer played by Aniston, hears her biological clock ticking and decides to be artificially inseminated by someone.
Well, someone else, according to the repressed Wally, who wishes he could be the father of her first child.
Maybe that’s why he decides to — or, at least, gets so drunk that he doesn’t realize he’s about to — commit the act alluded to in the title: at a party celebrating and hosting Kassie’s insemination, Wally switches his sperm for that of Kassie’s donor, played by Patrick Wilson.
But he’s definitely sober when he comes to realize a sobering thought: he’s actually in love with Kassie. Too bad she’s about to move from New York City to Minnesota.
Which she does.
Then, seven years later, her broadcasting work brings Kassie and her son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) back to the Big Apple, where Wally continues to harbor his secret, even when he meets Sebastian and notices the boy’s rather startling Mini-Me resemblance to himself.
The directing duo of Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory) up their game by ignoring the most obvious generic flourishes and audience expectations that come to mind as possible paths to travel and instead stay true to their tale’s essence.
The screenplay by co-producer Allan Loeb — based on a short story, “Baster,” by Jeffrey Eugenides (the film’s original title was The Baster) — isn’t exactly a model of plausibility. There are severe leap-of-faith contrivances that lead to plot holes the size of a maternity ward.
But, then, this is the rom-com genre, after all. And with the help of a first-rate cast, the narrative nonetheless takes us along as willing participants.
In Bateman we have a consummately skilled comic actor taking on the kind of farcical lead he was born to play with his characteristic soft-spoken, understated delivery that is always slyly witty. His largely lovable loser here is a marvel of momentary glances, deadpan takes, subtle reactions, and unexpressed thoughts.
And Aniston, who also served as one of the executive producers, knows this is Bateman’s party — it is his character who sporadically narrates — and humbly complements him, providing a half-glass-full counterpoint to his half-glass-empty bundle of neuroses by contributing a generic but convincing and appealing turn in an underwritten role as the woman he silently adores.
Valuable comedic contributions from Jeff Goldblum as Wally’s business partner and confidant and Juliette Lewis as Kassie’s best friend also help finesse the most outlandish elements of the script, and talented young Thomas Robinson does fine (wait’ll you see this irresistible, wide-eyed kid as a hypochondriac in training) as half of the film’s most touching relationship, the newly discovered father-son bond.
In fact, before it’s over, The Switch has switched from an amusing romantic comedy to a poignant father-son dramedy without coming apart at the seams. Nicely done.
So we’ll conceive 3 stars out of 4 for a smart and lovable entertainment. It may not be without a hitch or a glitch, but The Switch is still a stitch.