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Home / Articles / Entertainment / Screen /  Better than nothing
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Thursday, August 26,2010

Better than nothing

By Michael Phillips

Set in Manhattan, The Switch is all over the place. But around the halfway point it starts getting interesting and the people who put it together are at least working in a realm of reasonable intelligence and wit and respect for the audience. I wish it were great, but “pretty good” puts it ahead of plenty of recent romantic comedies. Puh-LEN-ty.

When words such as “subversive” and “offbeat” and “unconventional” pepper a commercial American rom-com’s production notes, you know the studio (in this case, Miramax) is already in a sweat regarding how to sell it. The movie comes from the 1996 Jeffrey Eugenides short story “Baster,” originally published in The New Yorker. Eugenides’ story takes care of roughly the first halfhour; adapter Allan Loeb fills in the rest. He softens the harder edges of the original (including any mention of abortion), for better or worse.

Jennifer Aniston gets top billing, but the character played by Jason Bateman sets the tone. The setup: Single and ready for a kid, TV producer Kassie (Aniston) decides on artificial insemination. Her longtime friend and long-ago lover, Wally (Bateman), a mope by temperament whose opening voice-over spiel lays out his grim views on romantic love, does not get the nod. Instead, the sperm donor is Roland, a hardy, rock-climbing Michigan lug (Patrick Wilson).

The title refers to a switcheroo Bateman’s character pulls at the “insemination party,” substituting (drunkenly, and then passing out) his own donation to the cause for Roland’s. Seven years later, Kassie’s son’s quirks appear to have more in common with Wally than the presumptive birth father. Wally has a secret. The movie is about how long he can keep it.

The Switch enters the marketplace at a time when audiences may be tiring of sperm, what with everything from The Back-Up Plan to The Kids Are All Right. Bateman’s comic wiles are considerable, his ironic inflections deadly — and his ability to turn off a good portion of any audience, undeniable. He is not an actor who cares much about being liked.

Aniston sometimes feels sidelined in her own movie (she is, after all, a woman playing a woman; what else is new?). I suppose there’s a sameness to her work on screen, yet I don’t know of a steadily working actress in Hollywood who gets a more consistently bad rap — based solely on the quality of most of her scripts, such as the misery-inducing Bounty Hunter — than this one. What she needs is luck, and a better agent.

There are three reasons this movie’s limitations and compromises can be forgiven. One and two: the directors, Josh Gordon and Will Speck, the duo behind my second-favorite Will Ferrell comedy (Blades of Glory). Their touch isn’t startling or dynamic, but they know how hard to push a joke and, four times out of five, where to put the camera. And No. 3? Jeff Goldblum. As Wally’s stockbroker partner, the actor is stuck firmly in sounding-board-for-themale-lead territory. Yet you find yourself smiling each time he pops back into the plot. My kind of scenestealer: You don’t realize the scene he just stole is gone until two scenes later.

—MCT, Tribune Media Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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