‘The Switch’: Fluid Situation, By Kurt Loder

Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman and the search for a kid in a cup

[movie id="366463"]“The Switch”[/movie] is set in that fantasy Manhattan, familiar from Woody Allen movies, in which everyone seems to be a highly compensated white professional and all ethnic coloration has been drained away. The movie wants us to care about these people’s problems — which include things like imaginary medical maladies — but many viewers may wish that such trifling complaints were the only ones they had.

Jennifer Aniston plays Kassie Larson, a top TV producer who’s facing 40 and desperate to have a child. Jason Bateman is Wally Mars, a stock trader who was once Kassie’s boyfriend but is now simply her best pal — although of course he still secretly pines for her love. Kassie has never found the right guy to have a family with, so she’s decided to go the artificial-insemination route. She’s found the ideal donor in a guy named Roland (Patrick Wilson), who’s both a hearty jock and an assistant professor of feminist theory at Columbia University. Obviously Mr. Right, at least for purposes of impregnation.

Do women desirous of offspring actually throw “I’m Getting Pregnant” parties at which their chosen sperm donor arrives bearing baby juice in a plastic cup? Kassie does. Unfortunately, Wally is among the many friends in attendance, and he gets drunk, stumbles into the bathroom, finds Roland’s cup, accidentally spills its contents, and then — using a magazine photo of Diane Sawyer for stimulation — brings forth his own seminal contribution, which he leaves to be passed off as Roland’s. Wally is so drunk that the next day he doesn’t remember doing this. Two weeks later, Kassie announces she’s pregnant. She relocates to Minnesota to raise the child she’ll soon be having. Seven years later she returns to New York with her little boy, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson). She reconnects with Wally — who’s still in the dark about what he did at the party that night, and doesn’t realize Sebastian is his son — but also with Roland, who quickly develops a romantic interest in her. And so forth.

Romantic comedies aren’t often an arena for violence, but this one’s different — the movie’s script continually manhandles its characters into situations of brazen implausibility. The picture does have some funny moments, mostly provided by Jeff Goldblum, as Wally’s distracted boss (Goldblum always seems to have another, more interesting conversation going on in his head while he’s delivering his character’s lines); and by Juliette Lewis, who enlivens a few scenes with her blowsy, wisecracking energy. (“I’ve had orgasms that last longer than his relationships.”) And Robinson is unusually engaging as little Sebastian — he’s a cute kid with a surprisingly wry intelligence.

It’s too bad that Bateman, so expert at underplaying comic characters, has a character here that’s so thinly conceived it can’t bear much underplaying. Wally — who exhibits none of the sharkish élan we might expect of someone in his line of work — is a downbeat lump, and after a while, as he fails over and over again (and ever more unconvincingly) to break the news that he’s the father of Kassie’s son, we understand why he might seem a poor romantic choice for any woman. This leaves a charisma deficit that would have to be filled by Aniston. She’s an appealing comic actress, but after 17 years of making feature films, she’s still handicapped by the mild effect of the TV star she once was. Will she ever really surprise us, or excite us? Or will we always just be friends?

(Note to readers: This is the last review I’ll be doing for MTVNews.com. I’d like to thank everbody who’s clicked in for the past six years for all the feedback — the good, the bad, even the outraged. It’s definitely been fun.)

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