One drunken night

A guy in a drunken stu­por did the un­think­able by mak­ing The Switch.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIE - by STEVEn ZEITcHIK

IT looks like a chick flick and stars chick-flick sta­ple Jen­nifer Anis­ton, but the lit­tle se­cret of The Switch is that it’s ac­tu­ally about men. And not nec­es­sar­ily the Ychromosome set at its finest. Men who can’t be hon­est with them­selves or the peo­ple around them. Men whose ma­tu­rity lev­els are shown up by a child.

“Jen’s char­ac­ter is ob­vi­ously an im­por­tant part of the movie. But the movie re­ally is about the jour­ney of a guy who’s not fully evolved or par­tic­u­larly well-bal­anced,” says codi­rec­tor Josh Gor­don.

The Switch tells the tale of Kassie (Anis­ton) who, in choos­ing a sperm donor, over­looks her good, but neu­rotic, friend Wally (Ja­son Bate­man) in favour of Roland (Pa­trick Wil­son), an al­pha-male with a mil­lion-dol­lar smile.

Al­ready feel­ing in­ad­e­quate, Wally, while black­out drunk at Kassie’s “preg­nancy party”, switches Roland’s sperm with his own in a star­tling but still comic scene in­volv­ing fer­til­ity charts, a lab sam­ple cup and Diane Sawyer, leav­ing Kassie to un­know­ingly im­preg­nate her­self with Wally’s seed.

When she shows up seven years later with her preter­nat­u­rally anx­ious son Se­bas­tian (the tal­ented Thomas Robin­son), Wally be­gins to de­velop a re­la­tion­ship with the boy while be­ing less than forth­com­ing with Kassie.

“If Wally was any smarter he wouldn’t have made the switch in the first place,” says Bate­man of his char­ac­ter. “But once he did, he needs to find a way to han­dle this new in­for­ma­tion.”

In a sum­mer when Grown Ups proved sur­pris­ingly po­tent at the box of­fice, The Switch show­cases a dif­fer­ent kind of im­ma­tu­rity – not the gross-out hu­mour of Adam San­dler and David Spade, but out­wardly pre­sentable men whose well-scrubbed fa­cade con­ceals the ar­rested devel­op­ment within.

Bate­man’s Wally is a suc­cess­ful Wall Street an­a­lyst with a posh Man­hat­tan apart­ment, but it hardly stops him from emo­tional cow­ardice or end­less anx­i­ety.

“Beady-eyed man-child,” a va­grant calls out like an or­a­cle to Wally at the open­ing of the film.

“In the last 20 years, Hollywood movies have be­come so en­gi­neered for lik­a­bil­ity. In­con­sis­ten­cies or un­lik­able qual­i­ties are ge­net­i­cally bred out of char­ac­ters,” Gor­don says.

“Wally re­mains dam­aged to the end.” (In­ci­den­tally, the Jef­frey Eu­genides short story Baster, on which the film is based, as well as early drafts of the film’s script, de­scribes a lead char­ac­ter with not only a neu­rotic but a neb­bishy qual­ity; Paul Gia­matti and Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man were at var­i­ous times con­sid­ered for the role.)

Al­though it’s be­ing mar­keted as a ro­man­tic com­edy and cer­tainly has some of its trap­pings, the movie’s heart beats to a more se­ri­ous rhythm.

With a script from Al­lan Loeb – the writer of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, who’s no stranger to the sub­ject of flawed mas­culin­ity – The Switch de­picts a suc­cess­ful but lonely man in his late 30s.

In so do­ing, it touches a third rail that few main­stream come­dies get close to: the sub­ject of male anx­i­eties about sin­gle­hood and child­less­ness.

“To me, the core of the story is about Wally be­com­ing a fa­ther,” Loeb says. “The ex­pe­ri­ence I and many of my friends have is get­ting close to 40 and not yet be­ing a fa­ther. This is about how a man found his way to be­come one, even if it was very un­con­ven­tional and very bom­bas­tic.” (Co-di­rec­tor Will Speck and Gor­don are mar­ried with chil­dren; Loeb is not.)

The movie’s core also lies in its re­la­tion­ships be­tween males – a poignant bed­time scene be­tween Bate­man and Robin­son, the ban­ter be­tween Wally and a col­league­men­tor named Leonard who has his own is­sues with women (a scen­esteal­ing Jeff Gold­blum) and the dy­namic be­tween the un­re­flec­tive con­fi­dence of Wil­son’s Roland and Bate­man’s in­tro­spec­tive anx­ious­ness.

On the other hand, Kassie’s lone mean­ing­ful fe­male re­la­tion­ship, with friend Deb­bie (Juli­ette Lewis), is slight and for­get­table.

All of that is more than enough to set The Switch apart from The BackUp Plan, the Jen­nifer Lopez ro­man­tic com­edy about ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion – though the premises of the two were sim­i­lar enough that The Switch pro­duc­ers at one early point con­sid­ered le­gal ac­tion against the CBS Films pro­duc­tion.

There’s an ap­pro­pri­ate par­al­lel be­hind the cam­era to the film’s male dy­nam­ics with Speck and Gor­don, who are the rare non­fra­ter­nal tan­dem di­rec­tors.

The film­mak­ers also dealt with themes of mas­culin­ity – and the over­com­pen­sa­tion that can ac­com­pany those who are in­se­cure with it – in their pre­vi­ous movie Blades Of Glory and Will Fer­rell’s lead char­ac­ter of Chazz Michael Michaels.

Says Speck, with­out much irony, “There’s some­thing about the strug­gle of a sen­si­tive man that we re­ally re­late to.”

Gor­don adds that both movies are about “men find­ing a lit­tle bit of ma­tu­rity, a lit­tle bit of peace”.

The Switch does, of course, make some hay of Anis­ton’s preg­nancy, which prompted the ac­tress to note in pro­mot­ing the film that “women are re­al­is­ing it more and more, know­ing that they don’t have to set­tle with a man just to have that child” – and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly to fire back that the ac­tress is “throw­ing a mes­sage out to 12year-olds and 13-year-olds that, hey, you don’t need a guy, you don’t need a dad”.

But the film­mak­ers say that much of this de­bate misses the point.

“It’s ironic what Bill O’Reilly is say­ing about the dad not get­ting enough credit,” Gor­don says. “If you see this movie, you leave with this ap­pre­ci­a­tion of how dif­fi­cult it is for men to step up.”

Adds Speck, “A lot of the con­ver­sa­tion now is sur­round­ing sin­gle moth­er­hood and in­sem­i­na­tion. But the truth is, a huge part of the movie is com­ing to terms with the emo­tions that sur­round be­ing a man who’s over­looked.” – Los An­ge­les Times/McClatchy-Tribune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices n Th­eSwitch opens in Malaysian cine­mas to­mor­row.

So what do we do now? Ja­son Bate­man and Jen­nifer Anis­ton seem to ask each other in the film Th­eSwitch.

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