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Some folks plan for parenthood. They paint the nursery, read all the parenting books, open up college savings accounts and, when their little bundle of wonder finally arrives, they're more than ready to be the best parents they can be.
For others, parenthood comes as a surprise—a bolt out of the blue requiring an immediate full-life reboot.
You'd think that it'd be near impossible to combine the two approaches. But Kassie and Wally do exactly that.
Kassie is a wannabe mamma. Her biological clock comes with an alarm—not an electronic one set to a nice, classical music station, but one of those wind-up, two-ringer things with a hammer bouncing between. For her, parenthood is a now-or-never proposition, and the fact that she hasn't met a great guy yet—one with whom she'd be willing to say "I do"—is beside the point. She decides to get pregnant without carting along a Mr. Kassie, and she asks her friend Wally if he'd help her look for potential sperm donors.
Bad idea, Wally says. You're just restless. You don't need a kid. Besides, these things never work out. And, oh yeah, "What's wrong with my sperm, by the way?"
Kassie tells Wally that he's neurotic and pessimistic and makes too much noise when he eats—all reasons why the two of them decided to "just be friends" in the first place. The perfect man to father her child is out there, though, and Kassie does find him, even without Wally's help.
But during Kassie's subsequent "conception" party, a completely blitzed Wally finds that perfect man's "donation" in a little plastic jar and accidentally dumps it down the bathroom sink. In his drunken stupor, Wally figures the only thing to do is replace it.
The next morning, he doesn't remember a thing. In fact, he doesn't remember a thing for seven years. Then he and Kassie get together for dinner and he meets Kassie's boy, Sebastian, for the first time. And Sebastian is a neurotic, pessimistic little lad who makes noise when he eats.
The whole setup for The Switch is, by definition, a little ooky. But there are some surprisingly sweet messages lurking behind the tawdriness of the turkey baster: Kassie acknowledges that her chosen path to motherhood isn't ideal. But she wants to be a mom, and she makes a reasonably good one, as far as we can see. She fiercely loves Sebastian, even though he's not exactly a picture-perfect kid.
Wally's path to parenthood is also less than ideal. He has no clue Sebastian might be his child at first, and he initially sees him as, really, a hindrance to rekindling his "friendship" with Kassie. But after spending some alone time with Sebastian, he discovers that they really get along well—surprising, since it's rare for Sebastian to get along with anybody. By the time Wally realizes that he's the boy's biological father, he and Sebastian already seem like family—and Wally realizes that he's been missing that sense of family most of his life. Turns out, Wally needed a son just as much as Sebastian needed a dad. And Wally goes to great lengths to help his son and Kassie.
[Spoiler Warning] Wally keeps Sebastian's paternity a secret from Kassie for much of the movie, worried that if he tells her the truth, he'll lose his friend and son. But eventually Wally does fess up, and Kassie is, indeed, furious, telling him she never wants to see him again. Later, Wally talks to his friend Leonard about his sad predicament. Leonard's proud of him for finally doing the right thing, but then tells him to go home.
"They are my home, Leonard," Wally says.
Kassie eventually relents, of course.
Stubborn at times yet quite principled, Sebastian sticks up for inhumanely treated animals by refusing to eat force-fed duck at a restaurant. And at his birthday party he tells guests he won't blow out the candles on his birthday cake until someone promises to adopt a three-legged dog—slated to be euthanized—from the animal shelter.
Kassie's conception party is chockablock with large-breasted statues and tapestries depicting what seem to be fertility gods. Kassie's best friend, Debbie, is into mysticism. She gives Kassie a "dream catcher" as an apartment-warming gift.
The first third of the film is filled with conversations revolving around sperm and semen and cervical mucus. The invitations for Kassie's conception party include colorful sperm confetti. Sperm donor Roland attends the party (with his wife), telling Wally he feels like the "prized bull" before being led off to a separate room.
Wally gets drunk and high at the party. When he staggers into the bathroom, he discovers Roland's donation and begins to goof around with it, ultimately spilling it. That's when he decides to replace the lost semen, shuffling through magazines for titillating images. (He fixates on a picture of Diane Sawyer.)
Elsewhere, Kassie and Wally attend a one-man recitation of Hamlet—in which the actor is completely nude. We see a close-up of the guy's backside, along with a blurred, long shot of him facing the camera. Wally shows friends pictures of his scrotum. (He's worried it has a growth.)
Turn-ons, porn, masturbation, orgasms and infidelity are prime subjects. A woman is called a hooker and a "b‑‑ch." Sebastian, reciting the symptoms of a disease he thinks he has, lists "lack of sexual drive." Because he has no father—just a "seed" donor—Sebastian thinks his mom's a lesbian.
Wally and Kassie first kissed at a party where Kassie was dressed as a Playboy bunny. Roland buys Kassie a clingy rock-climbing outfit. Women wear outfits with plunging necklines.
Kassie and Roland spend a weekend at Roland's cabin. Wally steers Kassie clear of a married man who hits on her. Kassie tells Wally, when he's making noise as he eats, to "stop having sex with your food."
Sebastian's being bullied at school, and Wally advises him to act "crazy," like he doesn't care, in hopes that the bully will back off. We don't see Sebastian confront the bully with his "crazy" act, but we see the aftereffects: a few cuts and bruises on the little boy's face. Sebastian tells Wally that the bully hit him and pushed him down.
When Wally admits to Kassie that he's Sebastian's real father, she slaps him—just as Sebastian walks in.
Crude or Profane Language
One s-word. Wally nearly blurts out the f-word to Sebastian before substituting it with "funion" (which both he and Sebastian repeat). God's name is misused more than a dozen times. We also hear such words as "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n" and "h‑‑‑."
Drug and Alcohol Content
As mentioned, Wally drinks heavily at Kassie's conception party, and Debbie also gives him a couple of pills to try. "They're herbal," she says, "but they might as well be pharmaceutical." Characters down beer, wine and a bevy of mixed drinks. Wally sends one of Kassie's suitors off on a wild goose chase for Ecstasy and Viagra. Kassie's fertility expert is shown smoking something.
Other Negative Elements
Wally urinates in a bathroom. (We see him unbuckle his pants and hear the sound of water in the toilet.) He throws up in a trash can. And his dog piddles on the floor.
Sebastian can be a little bratty. He throws temper tantrums and talks back—behaviors the adults in his life often respond to with impotent exasperation.
Despite its run-of-the-mill romcom status, The Switch found itself making "news" a few days before its release when star Jennifer Aniston said, while promoting the film, that "women are realizing more and more that you don't have to settle, they don't have to fiddle with a man to have that child." Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly shot back, saying Aniston's comments were "destructive to our society."
Aniston then got the last word when she told people.com, "Of course, the ideal scenario for parenting is obviously two parents of a mature age. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs on earth. … But for those who've not yet found their Bill O'Reilly, I'm just glad science has provided a few other options."
As far as the film goes, though, the flap over Aniston's comments may not matter much since The Switch is, in many respects, a nod to just how important and how needed fathers are. Onscreen, we see a boy who, no matter how much he loves his mom and his mom loves him, desperately wants a dad. He collects picture frames, keeping the pictures of the model families inside them—pretending the people are his father's family, around which he concocts thorough, if improbable, biographies.
For him, it's not enough that his father gave up a seed from which he grew. He wants a family. A real family, he says. And as Wally senses that longing in Sebastian, he comes to understand that he longs for and wants the very same thing.
As Wally tucks Sebastian in one night, the boy asks his dad what his father was like. "My father left when I was very young," Wally says, and the full weight of those words hit him as if for the first time. Sebastian is quiet for a moment. And then he hands Wally a picture frame, the models still inside.
I don't want to minimize The Switch's problems. This review clearly shows that they're significant. Still, this film affected me in ways I didn't expect walking in. And it does something you don't often see in comedies these days: It celebrates families. It celebrates moms. It celebrates dads. It celebrates dads who spend time with their kids. That's a concept I can really wrap my arms around.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jason Bateman as Wally Mars; Jennifer Aniston as Kassie; Thomas Robinson as Sebastian; Jeff Goldblum as Leonard; Juliette Lewis as Debbie; Patrick Wilson as Roland
August 20, 2010
March 15, 2011