Monday, September 13, 2010


Although the Jennifer Aniston & Jason Bateman romantic comedy "The Switch" (**** OUT OF ****) didn't beat the earlier Jennifer Lopez sperm bank comedy "The Back Up Plan" to the big-screen, co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck have produced a much more satisfying yarn about a single, fortysomething female's desire for artificial insemination. "The Back-Up Plan" relied on the comic predicament Lopez found herself in after she ran into Mr. Right the same day that her doctor inseminated her. The complications that arose between the Lopez character and her new boyfriend over her test tube pregnancy provided the grist of the plot. Naturally, the boyfriend found himself in an identity crisis because her pregnancy reversed the typical chronology of a couple and he got cold feet. Predictably, Lopez and her boyfriend dealt with this complication in the usual fashion of the guy meets gal, guy loses gal, and guy wins back gal formula. In the long run, everything turned out perfectly for them.

Ostensibly based on Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Jeffrey Eugenides' 1996 short story "The Baster," "The Switch" tweaks "The Back-Up Plan" premise. Aniston and Bateman play long-time best friends when our heroine hears her biological alarm clock ringing and opts for artificial insemination since she hasn't found Mr. Right. She solicits help from best friend Bateman to find the most suitable sperm donor. Predictably jealous, the Bateman character takes matters into his own hands and complications galore occur. Unlike "The Back-Up Plan," "The Switch" qualifies as a far funnier romantic comedy with richer situations, more interesting characters, and splendid performances. Aniston and Bateman forge chemistry together as a friendly couple who don't realize they are right for each other. Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, and Juliette Lewis provide solid support. The best acting in "The Switch," however, comes from the most crucial character in Allen Loeb's screenplay. Newcomer Thomas Robinson delivers a surprising performance as Aniston's on-screen preschooler. Not only is Robinson an adorable child , but he is also an accomplished thespian whose only previous credit was an episode of the canceled NBC-TV sci-fi series "Heroes."

Aristotle wrote in "Poetics" that character is the essential ingredient that drives the best comedy and drama. Co-helmers Josh Gordon and Will Speck and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" scenarist Allan Loeb follow this dictum, and "The Switch" emerges as not only hilarious but also endearing. The action unfolds in New York City seven years ago as a biologically-challenged single woman, Kassie Larson (Jennifer Aniston of "Marley and Me"), takes the fateful step of having herself artificially inseminates before she becomes too old for children. She finds the perfect donor in a good-looking university professor, Roland (Patrick Wilson of "Watchmen"), who teaches feminist literature. Initially, Kassie receives no support from Wall Street stockbroker Wally Mars (Jason Bateman of "Juno") who is a hopeless hypochondriac. Kassie accuses Wally of being pessimistic, but he claims he is just being realistic. Anyway, Kassie has her baby, christens him Sebastian, and moves away for six years. Wally's life remains unchanged until she returns. Since she has uprooted herself to raise her son in more friendly surroundings, Roland has divorced his adulterous wife. Kassie and he start dating. The complication is that six-year old Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) hates Roland. Ironically, Sebastian prefers the company of Wally, and the two become virtually inseparable.

One day while Wally and Sebastian are riding a bus, another passenger remarks that they look like father and son. Wally informs her that Sebastian isn't his son. Nevertheless, Sebastian treats Wally as if he were his dad. Several occasions occur when Sebastian needs help, and he resorts to Wally. At one point, Sebastian leaves a friend's birthday party after a brawl with a bully and goes out of his way to walk 20 blocks to Wally's apartment. Later, Kassie leaves Sebastian with one of his friends so she can spend a romantic weekend with Roland. As it turns out, Sebastian has contracted head lice and his friend's mom wants him gone. Stuck far away in Michigan, Kassie implores her old friend Wally to treat Sebastian's lice infection until she can return on an overnight flight. The bond between Wally and Sebastian deepens until Wally wonders if he really is Sebastian's father.

Wally searches his memory about the night of Kassie's sperm donor party and remembers that Kassie's perennial best girlfriend, Debbie (Juliette Lewis of "Whip It"), gave him some of her mom's prescription medicine and he got drunk and stumbled into the bathroom where Roland had left his container of sperm. Accidentally, Wally spills Roland's sperm into the sink and decides to replace it. Nothing but feminine magazines are available, and he whips up his own concoction to a picture of TV news anchor Diana Sawyer and replaces Roland's sperm with it. Such is Wally's state of mind that he forgets what he has done until he notices that Sebastian imitates his personality in every aspect. Wally discusses the issue with his close friend and Wall Street colleague Leonard (Jeff Goldblum of "Silverado") and decides to let Kassie in on his secret. Every opportunity that Wally has to deliver this major revelation falls through until our misguided hero attends a get-together at Kassie's apartment where Roland plans to propose marriage to Kassie in front of his older brothers and parents. Imagine the reaction that Kassie has when Wally turns her world upside down with his revelation.

"The Switch" is a consistently funny comedy that doesn't rely on a laugh track or a lowest-common denominator script to make us laugh. Everybody, including newcomer Thomas Robinson, doesn't act as if they were consciously trying to be funny and their fully developed but eccentric characters are a wonder to behold. Typically, a movie with two directors is a surefire recipe for disaster, but neither Gordon nor Speck get in each other's way, and "The Switch" flows smoothly throughout its 101 minutes without convolution.