Sperm is in the air. It's probably fair to assume that the 2007 success of Knocked Up had Hollywood scrambling to green-light the next preggers-centric rom-com, and this year, we find ourselves greeted by the artificial insemination trifecta of The Back-Up Plan, The Kids Are All Right, and now The Switch. The first was a gratingly broad sitcom fixated on the scenario itself, the second a winning take on the family dynamic several years after the fact, and the third initially heads off into wacky sitcom territory before coming back to our characters a few years later and assessing the implications with proper poignancy.
Wally (Jason Bateman) and Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) have been the best of friends for about six years. They tried the dating thing at first and then didn't pan out, and when Kassie announces that she's on the hunt for a sperm donor in lieu of the complete package, she doesn't even consider Wally. After all, if the father's this much of a pessimist (he prefers 'realist'), how might the kid turn out? Wally doesn't mind, at least not enough to say anything. He snipes at her decision, but supports her all the same, showing up to her "artificial insemination party" and drinking his true feelings away in between pot shots from her BFF (Juliette Lewis). The problem is, Wally's a little too drunk when he stumbles into the bathroom and sees the sample left by chosen donor Roland (Patrick Wilson). One accidental spill later, and he's hard-pressed to find a substitute...

Cut to seven years later, and Kassie's back in NYC, having fled the city in order to raise her six-year-old son, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), in a more wholesome environment (read: Minnesota). Wally's happy to have her near again and yet wary to meet Sebastian, whose looks and personality bear a far greater resemblance to those of neurotic Wally than those of the headstrong Roland, whom Kassie has taken up with. Once he corroborates the story of that fateful night with colleague and confidant Leonard (a welcome Jeff Goldblum), Wally finds himself playing an increasingly prominent role in Sebastian's life and faced with the burden of breaking the news to Kassie.

As I understand it, writer Allan Loeb (21) left out the seedier elements of Jeffrey Eugenides' original short story, in which Kassie had already aborted a baby belonging to Wally, prompting him to make the titular swap and generally making matters fairly darker. The direction of Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory) still conveys a fitting sense of melancholy, with Jess Hall's crisp cinematography playing no small part and with Bateman more than meeting everyone halfway. If anything, The Switch is a showcase throughout for his remarkably wry charm and surprisingly potent frustration. Whether spending a date rambling on endlessly and effortlessly about how awry this fledgling relationship could go or spending a day ridding his sudden son and an entire apartment of lice, he fleshes out his sarcastic sad-sack routine enough to make one wish that his pat voice-over narration at either end of the film had been done away with entirely.

In turn, nearly every relationship is defined primarily by his regret towards Aniston's character, his animosity towards Wilson's, and his rapport with Goldblum, Lewis and Robinson (a cute kid who thankfully eases off the Jonathan-Lipnicki-in-Jerry-Maguire throttle after a while). Their performances are all serviceable, their parts underwritten in comparison. The story beats are predictable as all get-out and the laughs are sporadic at best. But that performance by Bateman is enough to take a wacky-creepy premise and elevate into something gentle and sweet...

...which is more than I could say about The Back-Up Plan.

categories Reviews, Cinematical