Here’s the thing about the 2010 rom-com The Switch: it’s not bad. I understand how that sounds, but I promise I mean it as a good thing. To say that this could have aged poorly is an understatement (honestly, in a lot of ways, it has), but what’s most surprising is that the emotional center holds up. It’s just that the emotional center isn’t romantic or comedic. But let me back up.
Based on Jeffrey Eugenides’ short story Baster, The Switch is the story of best friends Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) and Wally (Jason Bateman), and how their relationship develops once Kassie decides to be artificially inseminated. Wally is, of course, still desperately in love with Kassie after they dated briefly years ago, and is having a hard time with the news. So much so he gets plastered at her Insemination Party, accidentally spills the donor’s semen down the sink, and proceeds to replace it with his own. So essentially a man hijacked his best friend’s pregnancy, but the movie attempts to absolve him of that by making it clear he was only doing it out of unrequited love and drunkenness.
Yeah, I don’t love it. Things I also didn’t love? The regular use of the term “friend zone,” how women in the movie are portrayed as lightly crazy for things like wanting to control when they procreate and saying the word “orgasm,” how there’s an emphasis on biological relationships, and, mostly, when Jeff Goldblum, as Wally’s friend/co-worker ridicules Wally for “puking like a college girl.” Sir, have you been to a frat house?
These two have both puked more than any chick at UW-Madison, I guarantee it.
Other things I continue not loving? Even though it was labeled as a sort-of-wacky rom-com, it’s not really that funny or that romantic. That’s despite the cast including All-Star Heroine Juliette Lewis doing her best to add a bit of the comedy.
I need that sperm sculpture for my living room and I need it now.
As far as the romance, hey, did you know that Aniston and Bateman have been good friends for twenty-five years? Because their kissing sure showed that. You get all of the heat you’d expect from two people who’ve decided they don’t want to make out for two and a half decades.
Siblings. Play siblings next time.
All of which is evident in the fact that this movie shouldn’t have been a rom-com. It has the general shape of a rom-com, but none of the beats of it. It’s not really about two people overcoming external obstacles to find each other, it’s about one guy facing his own mortality and shortcomings by becoming a father.
And holy crap, you guys, the kid.
Thomas Robinson plays Wally and Kassie’s five-(almost six-)year-old son, and he’s extraordinary. His scenes with Jason Bateman make the movie. Partly because his deadpan energy perfectly matches Bateman’s but partly because of the surprising depth those deadpan conversations have. Movies with weirdos are hard to navigate because the weirdo factor can come off feeling either gimmicky or all-consuming. Being an outsider is either fine because it doesn’t really matter or it’s not fine because it’s the only thing that matters. Wally and Sebastian’s scenes show two weirdos recognizing a bit of weirdo in each other, and do a significantly better job of bringing the off-beat humor the movie is trying to generate than the wacky “her artificial insemination went wrong!” does. Here, watch this:
I don’t want to say that I don’t like kids because that’s a lie, but I almost never like kids in movies. I definitely never once in my life watched a movie because a kid was in it, nor have I ever found myself thinking, “Man, you know what this scene could use? A child.” Not because kids are bad, but because adults are bad at writing kids. Adults have a way of making kids’ innocence seem overly optimistic or cheery, and as a person who has experienced children, that’s not true. One of my favorite kids has a game she plays called “Bear Hunt.” She hides the bear, hunts for it, and after she’s “found” it, she ties it up to the toilet. One time while playing this game, she leaned over to her mother, and whispered, “In the end, we kill the bear.” Then she winked. Is she probably a weirdo for doing that? Sure. Am I a weirdo for being overjoyed and proud that she winked after talking about bearacide? Absolutely. But that’s also what really makes the movie work.
There’s a pretty unfortunate setup to get Jason Bateman and Thomas Robinson into their scenes together, but the scenes themselves are great. Fantastic even. Bateman plays the role just off-putting enough that you understand why he’d have a hard time connecting to other people, and Thomas Robinson is genuinely spectacular as a kid who doesn’t fit in but endearingly so. The Switch isn’t a rom-com, but it is a love story. Not between Wally and Kassie, but between Wally and his son, two outsider weirdos finding out they’re not as alone as they think.