There was a time, and for most people I imagine that it hasn’t ended, where the term “romantic comedy” was/is synonymous with “chick flick.” That’s ironic since so many rom-coms are actually about men, from their perspective. As a semi-proof, of Rotten Tomatoes’ 25 Best Romantic Comedies, I’ve seen 20 and 15 of those are clearly told from a male perspective. Of the five remaining, two are the gender-balanced When Harry Met Sally… (1989) and The Philadelphia Story (1940). Even in those movies, the emotional balance (that is, emotional complexity) lies more heavily with the men than the women. Maybe I’m just inclined to see the male side of the movie as dominant because their side resonates with me (a man!). But I don’t think so. More on that in a minute–or however quickly you read.
Wally (Jason Bateman) is a neurotic New Yorker who has intimacy issues. He’s besties with Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) who hears her biological clock ticking. She’s done waiting and is going to find a man with some seed. Wally’s out because he’s got some defects that you don’t want when you start building a human. She also wants to avoid a bank so that she can meet him and check him out for herself. She lands on Roland (Patrick Wilson), the viking, who’s ticks all the boxes–looks, educated, dude’s dude. Well at the basting ceremony, Wally gets a little wasted and… Once preggers, Kassie goes back home to Minnesota to raise the kid. Seven years later, she comes back, with Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), and Wally notices some similarities. As Wally’s friend Leonard (Jeff Goldblum) says, “Uh oh.”
The Switch (2010) has a pretty darn good script from Allan Loeb. It probably veers into the melodrama a little too often, but the rest of it is so brisk and funny that I see past it. There’s just endless comedy to the cynic/realist neurotic and Loeb dips right in. Where the script goes from predictably good to pleasingly fantastic is giving this kind of material to a child.
And the child is great. Robinson is a cute kid to begin with. To that, the script adds curiosity and commentary. Further, the kid has personality. Nuanced personality with fears, ideas, and motivations of his own. As a child, he represents a lot of us in our adult lives. The confusion, the susceptibility to dubious advice, and the elaborate delusions. And the kid pulls it off without my ever thinking about the casting call. That’s a compliment.
Bateman is predictably great. His personality, if you like it (and I don’t know how wouldn’t), is consistently pleasing. To that personality, he adds some real sensitivity and internal conflict. Usually, he plays the straight-man to the insanity around him (and occasionally falls in). Here, he’s the oddity.
Aniston is almost there. I didn’t use to like her because I really didn’t like Friends (1994-2004). That show ruined a couple actors for me requiring serious rehabilitation. Matthew Perry is completely rehabbed (and, honestly, he was the least offender of the show). Aniston is close. She just needs to build on the strong work she did in The Break-Up (2006) and maintained in Just Go with It (2011) (surprisingly strong movie, by the way). In this movie, there are moments of excellence. I think it’s that her age is making her more vulnerable and the conflicts more believable.
The Show Thief award goes to Jeff Goldblum. He’s a guy who changes only marginally movie to movie and as male confidant, I think we’ve found his bread and butter. In a comedy, the main protagonist needs to talk to somebody (even the audience) and that somebody needs to see deeper than the protagonist. Add a little wit and charm and you’ve got a comedy going.
A nice touch to this movie is the great sense of music. It’s deeper than you’re used to in a rom-com. That’s because the emotion is more understated than you’re used to. It’s the music that keys you into Wally’s turmoil for those of you who don’t so clearly know from experience.
Okay, so it’s a great movie, I loved it. Buy it. Back to that other thing I was talking about.
How many films out there really get into the mind of a woman with her complexities and motivations before 2010? I mean really. In a way that Young Adult (2011) was with regard to a woman or Dan in Real Life (2007) or About a Boy (2002) or any number of movies about men.
Heck, Sleepless in Seattle (1993), written and directed by Nora Ephron, has a more complicated and fleshed-out male protagonist than female protagonist. So, I don’t think we can claim some social subconscious patriarchy. In my view the great feminist tragedy is that we’re so far past consensus male-orientation, chronologically, and yet there are very few mature, complicated female characters.
That’s a controversial statement, probably, but I’m stuck for examples. The ironic thing is that the strongest female characters that I can easily recall are from the 40’s and 50’s. Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn or even Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn played women as human beings rather than pieces in a relationship chess match.
I discussed a similar parallel in action movies in my Haywire (2012) review. But we’re seeing something happen in movies and I think we can date it to around 2010. Easy A (2010), Juno (2007), Young Adult, Bridesmaids (2011), and even How Do You Know (2010) are doing something different with comedy. There are others. It’s a topic I think requires more attention and maybe I’ll do so at some point.
The Switch dabbles in the water, but doesn’t spend the time necessary to really keep the balance. In its defense, that’s not really the movie. The movie is about Wally and his character that fits into Kassie’s story.
I was all set not to review the movie because it’s one that I enjoyed a great deal and those so regularly turn into box checking reviews. Then I saw that it was rotten on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5.9 on IMDB. That’s ludicrous. I’m astounded by that. For a movie this funny, it has no business being below 7.0. It was also not particularly successful in the box office.
The problems they point to are formula, predictability, not being indy, and being “just okay.” All of the dumbest complaints known to man.