Man + Woman = Neurotic but Happy Kid (A look at genders in The Switch)

Posted on 20 August 2010 by Quaid

It’s the return of Castor Troy! And SHE (I put that in all caps for a reason and to avoid the hate mail) has some very interesting things to say in this quick look at one of this week’s big releases, The Switch.

I thought about entitling this “Jason Bateman Not an Asshole! Aniston Is,” but thought perhaps that would be a little too simplistic.

Really, The Switch is a simple movie in the great way that any fable is. It’s a funny, entertaining story of two people who want what everyone wants– to love and be loved. It’s not difficult to follow, (we see where it’s going from a mile away), but despite sperm tomfoolery and the ever-fascinating distraction of Jeff Goldblum as Wally’s boss Leonard, we always have the characters’ struggle in sight. Everyone knows what it’s like to want to have it all, just like we know the heart wrenching effects of settling because our pride and lack of courage got in the way.

Jennifer Aniston plays Kassie, an unmarried, wanna-be mom who has charts of her dwindling fertility posted all over her bathroom door. Instead of going to her lifelong friend and “beady-eyed little man boy” Wally (Bateman) for help, she seeks out the handsome, supportive Roland (Patrick Wilson) to be her “Viking” and provide the seed for the deed. In a surprisingly funny scene involving a drunken Wally and a spread of Diane Sawyer, their sperm gets swapped and the conflict begins.

From the very beginning Kassie is insistent on doing things on “her terms.” We see this in the desperately forced “celebration” of her impregnation via turkey baster-like gadget. The women drink and dance together to “Papa Don’t Preach” (Madonna? Really?) and shout empowering catch phrases like “Doin’ it on our own! Yeeeah!” It’s the classic single girls night out scenario where everyone spends three hours getting pretty in their sexiest outfits so they can forget about bad boyfriends and take the world for their own… meanwhile every eye is fixed on the horizon of the bar for some nice, eligible man to save the day.

In all honesty, it makes for a few sad, scary scenes. We know that despite her natural longing for a child, this isn’t what she wanted. She wanted a husband she knew and loved– and a father for her son. In one of her only worthwhile scenes, Aniston shows us a woman feeling scared and pathetic, on the brink of an act of total desperation. We get the sense that she knows the whole procedure is more than a little dehumanizing–to herself and to the child who will be “acquired.” But instead of humbling herself, slowing down and having a little faith, she races around trying to bring all the pieces together without changing her lifestyle or allowing herself to rely on anyone else.

“The Switch” is courageous enough to show us what being a woman (or a man) means. And that means not having it all, all by yourself. This is where Bill O’Reilly got it wrong when he said the themes here are “destructive to society.” We’re supposed to feel uncomfortable that the child is being manipulated into existence by his self-serving mom, on her terms. Without going all fire and brimstone on our asses, Gordon and Speck are letting us know that perhaps there is something unsavory about a woman knowingly choosing to deny her child the irreplaceable relationship between father and son.

Despite all the “controversy” (can Bill O’Reilly even generate that anymore?) surrounding Aniston and the supposed message of the film, I guarantee that everyone’s attention will ultimately go to Jason Bateman in his intensely likable role. For someone who has always disliked Bateman for the simple fact that he’s squirly, I immediately fell in love with him here. He is the delivery man for pretty much every bit of clever dialogue, and carries off all of the film’s more tender moments with the help of the sorrowful Thomas Robinson as Wally’s six-year-old son, Sebastian.

Bateman is not playing the self-involved, annoyingly neurotic Woody Allen type you’d expect. (After all, this is a comedy…) Instead, Wally’s profound self loathing due to his inability to act is a refreshing look at a mature man who knows what he wants and what’s good for him. Though he dejectedly claims he “heads for the hills” when things get heavy, we know better. (Insert flashback to lice-hunting scene.) Wally longs for a family just as Kassie does, but he actually has the courage to risk losing everything so he might achieve something beyond an incomplete, mediocre version of this. In one of my favorite scenes, he recognizes that remaining tucked away in his safe, purgatory-like life also means he’d never be anything more to Sebastian than “Uncle Wally.” And as Leonard says, “That’s no good.”                  

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