As our romantic comedy leading ladies hit their late 30s, the emphasis seems to have moved from finding Mr. Right to finding Mr. Fertility. To wit: Tina Fey in Baby Mama, Jennifer Lopez in The Back-up Plan, and now Jennifer Anistan in The Switch.
Anistan plays Kassie. She wants a baby and she’s not getting any younger, so she decides to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and find a sperm donor. Her best friend Wally (Jason Bateman) wonders why it’s not him.
“It would ruin the friendship,” she hems. “And besides, you’re too neurotic.”
Yes, Wally is neurotic. Almost too neurotic to be solid leading man material (a scene where he sabotages a blind date by going off on a morbid tangent rings a little too true) but Bateman is just sheepishly charming enough to pull it off.
Kassie finds the perfect sperm donor, a strapping married Columbia professor named Roland (Patrick Wilson) and even throws a party to celebrate their insemination. (For The Switch to work you have to believe that Kassie would not just throw this party and have a doctor on hand to perform the insemination. Yeah, it’s a stretch.)
Wally gets drunk, stumbles across the specimen (the film comes up with 101 euphemisms for the word sperm, in case you were wondering) and accidentally (on purpose) knocks it over. Then, in a drunken haze, he decides to replace it with his own. . .fluids. (The magazine cover that puts him the mood is one of the film’s best jokes; I won’t ruin it here.)
Fast forward 7 years and Kassie has a little Wally on her hands: A fussy hypochondriac who hums when he eats, just like Wally.
“He looks just like you,” says a lady on the bus.
“He’s not mine,” says Wally, believing it at the time, but about to have his doubts.
The Switch has a few things going for it: One is wide-eyed mop-top Thomas Robinson, who plays young Sebastian. He’s movie precocious, to be sure, but at least not in a saccharine way. When Wally explains what hypochondria is, Sebastian looks at him sadly. “I have that,” he sighs. The relationship between father and son is actually quite touching, especially a scene where Wally steps up during a head lice emergency.
The film’s other secret weapon? The always deliciously loopy Jeff Goldblum as Leonard, Wally’s boss and mentor. When Wally confesses to Leonard that he might be the child’s father, Goldblum’s reaction is priceless. The actor, with his delayed reactions and slow-burn anxiety, can wrench more oddball humor out of a single line of dialog than virtually anyone working today.
So what doesn’t work? The romance between Kassie and Wally, oddly enough. We’re far more invested in the relationship between Wally and Sebastian than we are in his relationship with Kassie. We really only believe they’re meant for each other because, well, this is a romantic comedy and that’s what the rules say! (This film could’ve ended with Wally and Kassie agreeing to raise Sebastian together as friends and I would’ve been just as happy.)
Still, The Switch manages to its overcome its far-fetched premise to be a surprisingly satisfying movie. Although why they didn’t call it Who’s Your Daddy? is anyone’s guess.