Jennifer Aniston brings certain things to movies. A relaxed yet spontaneous comic ability. An attentiveness to other actors that is rare. A stumbling humanity that is making a nice transition to middle age, backed by the glowing sanity of someone old enough to know her place in the universe and the importance of others.
So when she announces early in The Switch that she has decided to have a baby, despite having no man in her life, it doesn't sound like the foundational gimmick in a romantic comedy. It sounds like the considered decision of a 40-year-old woman who, despite a surface chipperness, has thought long and hard about the promises and limits of life. Moreover, through Aniston we can see the vast numbers of women in the real world, making the same judgments and coming to the same conclusions.
The Switch is not worthy of the human qualities that Aniston brings — her movies rarely are. Nor is it worthy of Jason Bateman, who plays a repressed guy struggling with emotions he can neither articulate nor contain. But think of The Switch as a picnic. Aniston and Bateman each bring a rare Bordeaux, and the writers bring Spam on white bread. You can skip the picnic or show up and have a glass of wine.
Bateman plays Wally, a pessimistic soul made yet more grumpy by his being locked into platonic mode with his best friend, Kassie (Aniston). He's so in denial about his feelings that he doesn't quite admit to himself that he's in love with her, but when she announces her plans to find a sperm donor, it knocks him completely off balance.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
In its first minutes, The Switch, based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides, is smart and observant. With a modern bravado that we will all recognize, Kassie throws herself an insemination party, with friends and acquaintances, and then turns embarrassed, thinking that she has done something pathetic. Patrick Wilson plays the sperm donor. He's tall and athletic, has nice white teeth and an upbeat disposition, but an IQ test should have eliminated him from consideration.
The movie's flaw is impossible to ignore, turning on a tired convention: Someone knows something, and all that person has to do is say it, and the movie is over and everything's great. But he doesn't say it. So the movie goes on and on, and the more viewers have believed in the characters and their world, the more frustrated they become.
Still, amid the nonsense, there are gems. Here's one: Kassie sits on a sofa with Wally and suddenly realizes she has amorous feelings for him. But it's not mere lust or affection. She also is in the grip of a maternal feeling, which she is sensing yet not quite registering. Aniston does all this without words.
Here's another one. Wally becomes close to Kassie's son, and every time he's with him, we see the boy in Bateman's face. He doesn't act like a child, but we see the child inside him. That's lovely.
So consider seeing this for the actors and just know what you're getting into.