August 20, 2010
When Jason Bateman first talked to me last year about an upcoming film of his called "the Baster", it sounded incredibly amusing (particularly as he described it with his patented droll ironic delivery). When I heard that Josh Gordon and Will Speck, the team who brought us the Will Farrell vehicle "Blades of Glory" had directed, my hopes based on Bateman’s recommendation dropped, believing that the film would go for the guffaws rather than have any defined comedic substance and heart. On screening in its final incarnation as THE SWITCH, let me just say this, Jason, you didn’t give yourself or the film enough of a build up as the end result is charming, funny and entertaining with Bateman, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Goldblum stealing the show with hysterical heart-warming results.
Wally and Kassie have been best friends forever. Both highly successful transplanted New Yorkers, they live good lives, fast-paced lives, with their friendship at the core of their existence. Both single and content, there hasn’t been any real need for either to look for committed relationships. But what happens when Kassie decides something’s missing in her life. Yes, it’s that little biological clock telling her that time is running out for her to have a child. And being the progressive, self-sufficient and financially and emotionally secure woman that she is, there’s only one thing to do - find a sperm donor. You don’t need a husband to be a loving parent and create a loving family.
Unfortunately, this idea has been brewing inside Kassie for quite some time and not quite sure how Wally will react, she waits until the last possible minute to drop the bomb on him. Having previously been more than a BFF to Kassie, although in denial, Wally is still in love with her and takes the news quite hard, especially since he disagrees with what she is doing and because she won’t use his sperm. "We’re best friends. You’re neurotic and pessimistic. You’re judgmental. It wouldn’t work."
Creating a rift between the two, Wally nevertheless comes to Kassie’s Hawaiian themed "Artificial Insemination Shower" where everyone gets "leid". Met with ritualistic celebration hosted by Kassie’s other BFF, the free-spirited Debbie, Wally also gets a chance to meet the selected donor, Roland, a somewhat pompous, self-absorbed egotistical ass, although extremely handsome. Seems that Roland is a poorly paid academic and he and his wife are a little cash-strapped and providing his seed seems harmless enough - especially at the right price. Drinking himself into oblivion combined with one of Debbie’s herbal medications, Wally stumbles onto Kassie’s "basting supplies" while in this drunken stupor. Depressed, despondent, drunk and desperately in love, Wally does the unthinkable - although he has no clue what that is.
Fast forward seven years. Having left New York for the Midwest to live with her parents and raise her young son, Kassie is now returning to New York. Keeping in touch only with an occasional e-mail or card at Christmas, Wally is beyond ecstatic that Kassie is returning to his life, albeit with her young son Sebastian. Not too adept at dealing with adults let alone children, Wally finds himself thrust into a parental role with young Sebastian who has taken a strong liking and attachment to him, while Kassie, initially wanting only to have Sebastian know his birth father, finds herself embarking on a relationship with the now-divorced Roland.
Ironically, Roland struggles with befriending Sebastian with whom he has nothing in common - no genetic traits, no appearance, no mannerisms, no quirks. In fact, it seems like Sebastian is not only the spitting image of Wally, but a genetic clone. Seeing and feeling physical and emotional ties with Sebastian, Wally looks to his best friend, boss and moral compass, Leonard, for some insight into the situation. Thanks to Leonard’s heartfelt hysterical and manic candor, Wally realizes the truth of the situation. But what should do about it?
The joy of THE SWITCH is Jason Bateman. He has never been better. He brings Wally 360 degrees with depth and emotion and Bateman's patented wry wit and delivery. But if that isn’t enough, he then just zings you with his chemistry with Thomas Robinson who plays Sebastian. And then pair him up with Jeff Goldblum’s Leonard and you have yourself a comedy cavalcade. According to Will Speck, "They are a great unbelievable pair. [Leonard] is kind of a stock character in romantic comedies - the best friend guy - and what was great as that it felt like they really worked together professionally, so in the movie you really believe and buy that there’s no question that there’s a relationship there that can be relied on." But it's with little Mr. Robinson where Bateman just shines.
Jennifer Aniston easily steps into the role of Kassie. Light, uncomplicated with a natural ease, Aniston is a perfect fit bringing much of her familiar and likeable Rachel Green "Friends" persona to the role. Unfortunately, there are several scenes with Aniston following those of Bateman and Goldblum or Bateman and Robinson where the pace slows the momentum built by the guys gets "stuck." Also wearing the hat of Executive Producer, Aniston’s business savvy and acumen shows with the entire production, from casting to visual production values. For me, however, what sold me on Aniston is the race she exhibited under fire during the press conference fro THE SWITCH. Attacked in a multitude of directions for the film’s theme of a single mother electing to have a child, Aniston eloquently defended her position as a producer, a woman and as a character. "A lot of the point of the movie is what is it that defines family. It isn’t necessarily the traditional mother-father-two children and a dog named Spot. It’s love is love and family is what is around you and who is in your immediate sphere. Wally, whether he was the father or not, was the family. My favorite moment in the movie is after he confessed to Kassie and he goes to Jeff Goldblum [Leonard] and Jeff Goldblum finally says to Wally, ‘Just go home’ and he says, ‘But they are my home.’ And that’s what I love about this movie . It’s not just the traditional stereotype of what as a society we’ve been taught."
And talk about stealing your heart? One of the cornerstone’s of the film is Sebastian and Thomas Robinson is the most endearing, enchanting adorable child to come around in a while. Just from one look from those soulful big brown eyes and your heart just melts. Similar in character design to a young Jonathan Lipnicki in "Jerry McGuire", Robinson goes one better thanks to his facial expressiveness and his dead pan delivery that mimics Bateman. Where Lipnicki was infused with wisdom and kid giggles, Thompson is Bateman’s doppelganger in this pint sized bundle of adorableness. Absolutely LOVE him. And watching he and Bateman together - the entire film could have been Bateman, Robinson and Goldblum and I could have watched all night. That triumvirate is dynamite! And if Robinson alone or seeing him with Bateman isn't enough, a bedroom scene where Sebastian starts talking about the people in the pictures and the lives he has imagined for each that he has embraced as his own, well get the tissues ready folks. The purity and innocence of that the character of Sebastian and Robinson’s performance bring to the film are magical. According to Bateman "it wasn’t tough to get chemistry with [Robinson] because he’s such a good guy and talented and kind. He’s got great parents. The experience that I had being a young actor was helpful because I sort of remember that point of view, literally, from in front of a big black camera and 100 people standing behind it waiting to be released to lunch until you get your lines right. It’s nerve-racking and he was 6. He’s 14 now. I don’t know how somebody who was 3 years into the English language was able to take what was a new language to him and be able to manipulate it and find some nuance in the way he delivered sentence that he barely understands. He’s really talented and we had a great time."
Key to much of the comedy of THE SWITCH is Jeff Goldblum’s Leonard who serves as the frenetic conscience to Wally. First choice for Gordon and Speck, the starts aligned for "lassoing" Goldblum thanks to his appearing on stage in New York at the time of shooting, and Goldblum’s friendship with Aniston and admiration for Bateman. According to Speck, "he’s so funny and he’s also an amazing dramatic actor so you can work him a lot into the drama we were just happy to be able to have that part for him that could showcase his comedic talents which are incredible. He gets richer with age." According to Speck, "They are a great unbelievable pair. [Leonard] is kind of a stock character in romantic comedies - the best friend guy and what was great as that it felt like they really worked together professionally, so in the movie you really believe and buy that there’s no question that there’s a relationship there that can be relied on."
Often under-rated, Patrick Wilson shines as Roland while Juliette Lewis is a perfect female foil to Bateman’s Wally as well as serving as the female BFF to Kassie.
Character driven, Allen Loeb has a gift for developing characters with whom we can connect and care about. He excels in that here, particularly with the characters of Wally, Sebastian and Leonard. Loeb never hits us over the head with the emotional development of relationships and casually lets them unfold through dialogue and every day events like trips to the zoo, birthday parties or walks in the park, particularly those relationships involving Wally, as it is he who we get to see mature through the film. It is, in essence, Wally that carries the film and lucky for us, Bateman is more than up to the task. What directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck appreciate is that the script as a whole, "it doesn’t sugarcoat either the characters or the story. These characters are flawed and they grow into maturity."
Using a narrative format voiced from Wally’s point of view, although the narrative could have had a bit more oomph, the film moves at an even pace. However as mentioned above, there are scenes with Aniston that slow down causing the film to lose some momentum after great pick-me-ups with Goldblum, Bateman or Robinson. Cinematographer Jess Hall, who wowed us with the glorious "Brideshead Revisited" gives THE SWITCH a high polish veneer complimented with some exquisite time lapse sequences that are beautiful to watch.
Not the traditional stereotype of family but a love story of the best proportions. Switch on THE SWITCH.
Kassie - Jennifer Aniston
Wally - Jason Bateman
Sebastian - Thomas Robinson
Leonard - Jeff Goldblum
Debbie - Juliette Lewis
Roland - Patrick Wilson
Directed by Josh Gordon and will Speck. Written by Allan Loeb based on the short story "The Baster" by Jeffrey Eugenides