When I heard about The Switch, a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston as a Manhattan singleton who decides to get pregnant on her own, I confess that I had no desire to see it. I’d already been through Jennifer Lopez in The Back-Up Plan, and frankly, one screwball sperm-donor chick flick per year seemed more than enough. But The Switch is a pleasant surprise. It’s a by-the-numbers movie, but the dots that get connected feel new. Aniston, playing a forward-thinking lonely girl, is at her most sexy and charming — and no, I’m not saying that to be nice, I’m saying it because she’s sexy and charming, dammit. Why all the Internet brickbats toward this woman? Sure, a lot of her movies (such as The Bounty Hunter) are crap, but that has more to do with the current state of romantic comedy than it does with her willowy and buoyant middle-class appeal.
As it turns out, The Switch is more Jason Bateman’s movie than Aniston’s, and he makes the most of what might have been a stock role. He plays Wally, the frowningly downbeat, way too sincere friend of Kassie (Aniston) — whom, of course, he’s secretly in love with. The sperm-donor mix-up plot is the least elegant aspect of the movie, so put your sophisticated comedy hopes on hold as you suffer through the following description: Kassie, on her own but eager to have a baby, has personally selected her donor, a square-jawed surfer-blond dude named Roland (Patrick Wilson). To toast her impending pregnancy, she throws a party in which Roland is asked to leave his crucial sample in the bathroom. He does — but Wally, in a drunken haze, pours it down the drain and leaves his own sample instead.
Cut to seven years later, when Kassie is living in Minnesota with her 6-year-old son, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), who unbeknownst to everyone is really Wally’s son. Even Wally doesn’t know it; he has no memory of that fateful night, or of the switch that he drunkenly, passive-aggressively instigated. When Kassie and Sebastian move back to New York, though, and Wally begins to hang out with them, he and the kid hit it off. They may be barely conscious of it, but both father and son are neurotic, slightly gloomy, and winningly smart in exactly the same ways.
The Switch squeezes fresh laughs out of what is, in essence, a rather startlingly post-Freudian, nature-trumps-nurture view of child development. Wally and Sebastian make a very funny and touchingly well-matched pair of saturnine brainiacs, with goggle-eyed Thomas Robinson playing Sebastian as a chip off the old grouch. He’s not a brat, exactly, but he’s so discerning and cautious and fussy, about everything from Peking Duck to indoor rock climbing, that he’s like a tiny annoying adult. Whereas Bateman, who often seems like the world’s most doleful late-night talk-show host, makes Wally a fellow who can’t get his life together because he has never let go of the complaining child within.
There are winsome touches in The Switch, like the way that Sebastian collects brand-new picture frames, so he can pretend that the models in the sample photos are his family members. And there’s some nice clowning from Jeff Goldblum, who delivers spaced-out nuggets of wisdom as Wally’s faithful colleague. The romantic-triangle plot, however, is standard issue: Wilson, looking more than ever like Paul Newman, does his jerk-lite variations, and Bateman winds his way toward the big moment when he declares his feelings to Aniston. Fortunately, he’s not standing in the rain or running after her at an airport. So you can enjoy what happens without feeling too guilty about it in the morning. B