Narration in movies is a tricky thing. Sometimes it illuminates the thoughts of an anachronistic, layered character. Sometimes it’s used to create a mood or rhythm—it’s another detail of a film’s setting.
Often times, however, narration is there to tie up a sloppy film or impose a faux-clever theme on a movie with absolutely nothing to say, like Jason Bateman’s opening narration in the limp romantic comedy “The Switch.”
“Always rushed, always late; I guess that’s why they call it the human race,” he utters in a voice so apathetic he could be asleep. (Is he plagiarizing a great Nada Surf song?) Bateman’s comatose delivery is a very early sign that something is amiss, and it’s not too long before he and Jennifer Aniston are having one of those painfully forced conversations that people only have in modern romantic comedies.
It is strange how quickly and easily we fall into the flow of the predictable romcom. Even though there is little chemistry between Aniston and Bateman and neither of their characters have hardly any likable traits, we immediately start rooting for their characters to get together.
We know how this works so we just coast along. (Hell, maybe we’ve already seen the trailer, which gives the entire movie away.)
Aniston’s maternal clock is ticking and she’s sick of waiting for the perfect guy. Turns out he’s right in front of her, sending her cell phone pictures of what he thinks are his tumor-ridden genitals. (I’m not making this up.) She decides on artificial insemination but has to meet the donor (malevolently handsome Patrick Wilson) first—otherwise she won’t be able to fall in love with him later in the picture.
The switch that gives the movie its title (even though it was based on a decidedly more adventurous short story called “Baster” by Jeffrey Eugenides) comes when a pilled-up and drunk Bateman half-innocently replaces the donor sperm with his own seed and then conveniently forgets about it for seven years. Sound creepy? Well, it probably should have been—but instead directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (“Blades of Glory”) are content to squish the film into a harmless formula.
I suppose this setup is no more ridiculous than any other paint-by-numbers romantic comedy, but it is a little painful to see an inspired dry-comic pairing like Bateman and his boss/buddy Jeff Goldblum wasted. Their brief scenes together and the performance of an impossibly smart and neurotic Thomas Robinson as the couple’s kid are the only things that make “The Switch” watchable.
In fact, Robinson and Bateman even find a way to rise above all the cutesy like-father-like-son traits that the screenplay forces them to share. In the end, they form a fairly believable bond. This only serves to leave Aniston even more out in the cold. Her character becomes pretty insignificant and is reduced to waiting for Bateman to get the courage to express how he feels so she can do the same.
I know that it’s a common theme among romcoms that one character has to “wake up,” but if it’s going to be predestined from the beginning, couldn’t they at least distract us with some interesting characters or detours?
“The Switch” follows this well-tread path through all the beats—including the embarrassing public confession and a series of reflective montages—and eventually arrives right back where it started: with Bateman sleepily delivering another awkward off-camera speech directly to the audience.
A real switch would have been to draw some real characters and let them dictate the story instead of plugging good actors into a tired formula.