Shaggy and likable, but not lovable, The Switch is the rare romantic comedy that's actually about and made for adults. Not that that makes it better, of course--the many draggy moments and incoherent characters of The Switch pale in comparison to the juvenile and superior Knocked Up-- but it is surprisingly refreshing to see a movie about grown-ups who make grown-up mistakes and pay for them in the way regular grown-ups might. The premise behind The Switch is ludicrous, but its central relationship feels achingly familiar and real; some good performances and snappy jokes aren't quite enough to save an aimless script and obvious plot points, but there are far more good surprises here than bad.
As for that premise, well, let's get it out the way. Wally (Jason Bateman) and Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) have been platonic friends for years when career-oriented Kassie decides to have a child with a sperm donor, whom she decides not only to meet in person (he's Patrick Wilson, so I guess you can't blame her) but invite to a "pregnancy party," where she'll take his contribution and inseminate herself while the party guests snack on canapes. Stretching it even further, Wally shows up and gets so drunk that he replaces the donor sperm with his own, but is so hammered he forgets all about it.
Seven years later Kassie moves back to New York with her morose son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), and it doesn't take long for Wally to start putting the pieces together and realize Sebastian is his. Because this is a movie he can't quite tell her immediately, and instead watches her fall into a relationship with donor guy all while Wally and Sebastian start a father-son bonding process that Wally can't acknowledge. It takes far too much set-up in the pre-Sebastian days to get to this point, but once Wally finally knows the score things finally start to pick up, and the farce-like machinations that keep Kassie in the dark (and from falling into Wally's arms) are familiar but fun to be part of, in that pleasant way of half-decent romantic comedies you can't quite bring yourself to turn off when they come on TV.
It helps that Aniston and Bateman are truly fun to watch together, and even though the script does so little to establish them as actual human beings, you root for their pairing and believe in the long years of friendship that have gotten them this far. Somehow the movie survives having both Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis as Wally and Kassie's respective best friends, and though each occasionally seems set adrift in a movie so unflinchingly normal, they get most of the best lines and reaction shots, as well they should. The script by Allan Loeb is based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides, and you still see a few traces of the literary impulse against pat rom-com answers-- a marriage proposal is met with a resigned "Probably," and a date turns from awkwardly jokey to just plain depressing in a few deft lines of dialogue.
I'm guessing the movie that Will Speck and Josh Gordon directed wasn't quite what we see here-- some lapses in character development and the completely overbearing score point toward a studio (the doomed Miramax, of course) worried they had something too edgy and real on their hands. Speck and Gordon wring real moments of comedy and pathos out of the film's better moments, though, and you can only imagine that the fuller, better version of The Switch-- perhaps bearing the original title, The Baster-- was there a few edits back. It's tempting to mourn what could have been, but even a sorta-good romantic comedy is no small thing-- and The Switch qualifies as that, just barely.