Aug 22, 2010

REVIEW: The Switch (dir. Gordon)

Why is Jason Bateman not a bigger star? My wife and I were trying to solve this conundrum on the subway home after seeing The Switch, a film whose uniformly grudging reviews only minorly dented the film's enticing trailer. In the event, it purred along pleasurably enough, as opposed to inducing an irresistable urge to stick a fork into the side your head, like most romantic comedies these days. Bateman throws up fresh marvels of relaxed observation in every scene, his hair permanently ruffled, brow furrowed, like someone having a hard time waking up to the tiny details of his life. He's the kind of actor you would watch making an omelette. He even does a great drunk, moving slowly and over deliberately, like someone who is trying his best to hide it. The extremity of his drunkenness doesn't dawn on you at once, and when it does you want to whisper: hey.... that guy is wasted. That scene is what jump-starts the plot of the film, in which Bateman plays a neurotic, shut-down, and slightly gloomy best friend of Jennifer Aniston, who, in a drunken blur at a party, swaps semen samples with the good-looking tool she's chosen to be the father of her child. Secretly, of course, he's in love with her. Aniston then disappears for seven years and returns with her son, who turns out — ta da — to have exactly same case of the glums as Bateman. This is one of those plot humps you either resist or roll with. Personally I never tired of seeing the two of them discover some new quirk, or sour mood, or imaginary disease they both had in common. The kid is well chosen: he barely cracks a smile the entire movie. It's rare to see lead characters in a romantic comedy, particularly father-and-son-in-waiting, bond over their cussedness. Critics have been saying that he steals the movie although it's hard to steal what's already yours: he's centre stage for most of the running time. That's single reason the film is going to do badly and why nobody would touch the script for so long, despite its reputation as one of the great unmade films. Aniston pops in now and again to do battle with her Botox and summon up the ghost of perkiness past. Too little use is made of Juliet Lewis as her bead-wearing, boho harpy of a best friend. The picture's biggest laughs go to Jeff Goldblum, a tanned, besuited lizard king offering Bateman sexual advice of dubious reliability. Goldblum's pauses have, over the years, seasoned into things of great precision and comic beauty (from the trailers of Morning Glory it looks like he works similar wonders in that film too). My favorite moment in the entire picture comes during a scene in which Bateman confides in him about his feelings; Batemen hits the peak of the speech; and Goldblum lets his face go all soppy but only for a fraction of a second, as you do when someone starts talking about their grandma. Then it's gone, his skepticism back in the saddle again, eyes darting. You half expect a little forked tongue to flick over his lips. C+

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