Fortunately for her career, Jennifer Aniston is quite easy on the eyes because her acting ability seems to be limited to the portrayal of the same character bearing different names. Of course she became a star by playing Rachel Green on the popular television series “Friends,” and I guess it is inevitable that every character she plays on the silver screen is nothing but another version of Rachel.
And Aniston fans will be pleased to learn that Rachel is alive and well in “The Switch,” a typically humorless romantic comedy costarring Jason Bateman, and featuring the impressive debut of 10-year-old Thomas Robinson on the big screen. The film is based upon a short story titled “Baster” by Jeffrey Egenides, who won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his 2002 novel “Middlesex.”
In “The Switch” Rachel’s new name is Kassie Larson (Aniston), and she’s a single woman living in New York, where she works in the media. As the film begins, we find her having lunch with her best friend, Wally Mars (Bateman), and she tells him that she has decided it’s time for her to have a baby. Kassie has no plans to be married, however, and she intends to be artificially inseminated to achieve her pregnancy.
Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Wally is madly in love with Kassie, and although the announcement of her intentions disturbs him, he doesn’t say much even when announces, “I’m in the market for some semen.” In fact, Wally offers to be the donor, but she rejects him because of his tendency to be a bit neurotic at times.
Kassie ultimately decides upon a donor named Roland (Patrick Wilson), and her nutty best friend, Debbie (Juliette Lewis) decides to have an “insemination party” for her, and all their closest friends are invited. Of course, Wally shows up, and in a rather awkward moment, meets Roland, who seems to be reveling his role as the star of the show. Wally, on the other hand, decides to cope by getting drunk.
A bit later Wally stumbles into the bathroom and discovers the cup holding Roland’s precious sperm awaiting Kassie. Now anyone with an IQ above that of a rock can figure out what is going to happen. After he accidentally spills (Don’t ask.) Roland’s offering, he substitutes his own little swimmers. Naturally Kassie becomes pregnant, and she has a son that she names Sebastian (Robinson). Then she and the baby move away from New York, leaving Wally to brood.
Seven years later, Kassie decides to return to the Big Apple, and if you can’t predict what happens from here on, you need to follow the Yellow Brick Road to Oz and ask the Wizard to give you a brain.
If you take a large portion of “When Harry Met Sally…” and stir in equal parts of “The Goodbye Girl,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” you have the basic ingredients for “The Switch,” which isn’t as good as any of the films that contribute to its recipe. And the two main reasons that it doesn’t measure up to other great comedies are the lack of great chemistry between Aniston and Bateman and the obvious absence of drop-dead humorous scenes. In fact, Bateman addressed the comic aspect of the film in the production notes.
“As far as the comedy goes, it’s not pie in the face, winky, slapstick, kind of broad comedy. It’s whatever laughs would come from people being in a real situation, so we never lean into any of the stuff, and it’s not some knee-slapping, silly comedy. It’s character driven with a lot of reactions — stuff that I really like to do, and it’s material that makes me laugh, so if I’ve ever made you laugh then you’d probably like this.”
Now if you really want to delve into the psychological aspects of this film, here’s what producer Ron Yerxa (“Little Miss Sunshine”) said about the film in the production notes.
“It’s interesting that Jennifer Aniston’s character is a good parent throughout, but Jason Bateman’s character, when he first meets Sebastian, is put off. He has no tolerance or humanistic connection to children, and it’s really an act of discovery on his part. The very reasons he can’t stand this child are the things that he repudiates in himself. So, only by a mutual act of self-discovery can he open himself up to accept and love the child. And the journey here is that you might be a totally narcissistic, materialistic, career-oriented New Yorker, but given enough time if you open up to the people who enter your life, you have a chance to become a much better person than you were in the beginning. So I’d put it in the social-class category of comedy.”
Now the best thing about this movie is the performance of young Robinson, who is absolutely irresistible as Sebastian. His presence elevates the final score of the movie from a four to a six. Of course if I took into consideration that the film’s subject matter and Aniston’s comments about it thoroughly pissed off that pompous windbag Bill O’Reilly, it might have received a 12.
Here’s a final thought. It would be really refreshing to see Aniston in a film where she once and for all broke out of the Rachel mold. Now that would be a real switch.