THE SWITCH, based on the short story Baster by Jeffrey Eugenides, is a quiet comedy that is also an introspective mood piece about Wally (Jason Bateman) an inadvertently funny, introspective and somewhat moody man. Speaking to a particular pocket of time, the first decade of the 21st century, and a particular place, New York City, this bittersweet little tale of love lost, progeny found, and possibilities feared has angst tempered with gentle compassion for its protagonist, a man who has done only two foolish things in his otherwise perfectly ordered life.
The first was not taking the next step with Kassie (Jennifer Anniston) when they started dating because he overthought the possible outcome. Instead, he settled for the more comfortable and predictable state of lapsing into being best friends with her. The second was precipitated by taking the herbal tranquilizers offer to him by Debbie (Juliette Lewis) at Kassies impregnation party. Kassie, taking stock of her fertility and having decided to stop waiting for Mr. Right to experience the joys of motherhood, found a donor (Patrick Wilson), donned a garland of flowers, and made a celebration out of artificial insemination, complete with fertility statues of improbable proportions and turkey basters scattered about. The actual foolishness was what happened when Wally mixed the pills with liquor and found himself in the bathroom with the donation. A little horseplay, a little resentment that his donation wasnt even considered, and Wally is left with an empty specimen cup and only one way to save the party, as well as his dignity.
The next morning, Wally doesnt remember what happened, though his boss, Leonard (Jeff Goldblum), is full of colorful tales about the scene Wally caused at Leonards home. A few weeks later, Kassie is pregnant and moving back home to the Midwest to be near her family. Fast forward to Kassies return with Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), now six and a child given to moody introspection, as well as Wally-style hypochondria and that odd little habit Wally has of humming while eating. As fatherhood slowly dawns on Wally, so does his continuing attraction for Kassie, as well as his continuing struggle with commitment issues.
Wally is a man who is so orderly that even when he throws up, it is without fuss or muss, but Bateman taps into a wealth of inner turmoil as Wally slowly comes to realize that all is not what it seems with Sebastian, or with his relationship with Kassie or with the way she is re-connecting with the putative father of her child. Bateman gives an understated performance, using the inherent absurdities of his characters situation to go for the heart rather than the cheap laugh, though he manages to find plenty of not-cheap laughs, too. The kind that ring true and also break your heart. The unlikely bonding of man-child and child-man is touching, but with a sharp edge, eschewing simple sentimentality as Wally treats Sebastian like a little adult, and then finding himself moved more than he thought possible when the odd kid with childish whims and deeply thought out ideas warms up to him. Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (BLADES OF GLORY) let the little moments work their magic, such as Wally and Sebastian unconsciously striking the same pose. Young Master Robinson is Batemans equal, handling the sharp, spare dialogue with the same assurance, making Sebastians seriousness profound, his concerns carefully considered, never for a moment resorting to an irksome, stagey cuteness.
As for Anniston, this is her best performance in a while, using her natural likeability in collusion with her characters intelligence and charm without making Kassie either too good to be true as a friend, a girlfriend, or a mother. Other characters are drawn in as quick sketches, but Goldblum, Lewis, and Wilson infuse them with enough spark to make them somewhat more than two-dimensional. Goldblum with his quirkiness, Lewis with her kookiness, and Wilson with his big-toothed niceness.
THE SWITCH is suffused with a piquant sense of melancholia as it catches the quiet desperation of its characters, Wally for connection, Kassie for family. The approach is subtle, take that moving billboard advertising a turkey baster that glides behind Wally as he aimlessly wanders the streets of New York in the rain, but it makes its points with sly precision and a wicked sense of humor.