Based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides (The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex), The Switch is a modern refutation of the timeworn wisdom of the playground: "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage." Generations of schoolgirls have sung that tune while skipping rope on playgrounds everywhere, and our leading lady Kassie Singleton (Jennifer Aniston) was probably one of them. So when at the age of 40, this successful-but-still-single career woman decides to conceive a child through artificial insemination, she doesn' take kindly to the scoffing of her best friend Wally (Jason Bateman). "I didn't grow up in Minnesota dreaming of the day I'd put an ad on Craigslist for a sperm donor!" she shoots back at him in exasperation.
The Switch has an escapist gloss to it, set in New York and focusing on people with the sorts of jobs that afford them large sun-lit apartments and stress-free single parenting. Though it's not a lifestyle most people can afford (at least not in Manhattan), Kassie's situation is familiar to plenty of thirty- and fortysomething women trying to reconcile their desire to have children with their lack of a husband. Handwringing over the anemic state of modern marriage aside, what's a girl to do when the biological alarm clock starts to ring—and there's still no ring? I see little evidence that many women would prefer to be a single parent if given the option of a healthy marriage. But more and more, my single twentysomething friends, even those with conservative visions of marriage and family life, are looking at their single thirtysomething friends and making contingency plans should they also still be single at that age. Adoption is a popular Plan B.
For Kassie, Plan B is Roland (Patrick Wilson), a married assistant professor (of feminist literary theory, of course) who, strapped for cash, agrees to become the "seed guy" for Kassie's child. Women fawn all over the handsome and sensitive Roland at the party Kassie's friend Debbie (Juliette Lewis) throws to celebrate the insemination while Roland's wife stands awkwardly in the corner. The party itself is a study in awkwardness, despite Debbie's proclamation that this is how "everyone is doing it these days!"
Wally finds Kassie sitting alone in a bedroom, looking every bit the forlorn virgin bride privately mourning an unwanted arranged marriage, resignation submerging whatever hope for the future that might hide just below the surface. "I thought this party would make it better, but it's just really depressing," Kassie confides before putting on her crown of ribbons and rejoining the group in the living room.
Wally, the self-centered, somewhat neurotic best friend (who would be gay in a slightly different movie), is actually the film's protagonist. That's made clear when, after getting pregnant, Kassie moves back to Minnesota to raise her child closer to family. Despite palpable chemistry with Kassie, Wally retreats when things get too intense on the romantic front; he's unable to make any commitment to Kassie beyond friendship. And she gave up waiting on him long ago. (I'd like to ask my male friends about the plausibility of passing on romance with a woman as beautiful and competent as Jennifer Aniston, settling instead for a close friendship. But this is Hollywood and sometimes you just have to roll with it.)
Seven years later, Kassie returns to New York with her son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) in tow to find Wally very much as she left him (If my math is correct, both of them should be in their mid-to-late 40s by the time, but neither looks much older than 38. Again, rolling with it.) And they fall back into their comfortable way of being in each other's lives. Only now there's Sebastian, who looks and acts an awful lot like Wally.
What Wally can't remember is what you already know from the movie's trailer: he switched his sperm for Roland's sperm at the party—the very "switch" to which the title refers. Walls was drunk and blitzed on some sort of pill Debbie gave him. Diane Sawyer was also involved. So, needless to say, shenanigans ensue. Roland, freshly divorced, is now back in the picture, trying to be the father, while Wally and Sebastian clearly have a more natural connection. The questions are clear: Will Wally man up? Will he face up to his love for Kassie and now Sebastian? If Kassie finds out what Wally did with the sperm, will she ever forgive him? Will Wally lose everything?
The Switch is being promoted with the tagline "The Most Unexpected Comedy Ever Conceived," which is not exactly true. Movies with these sorts of production values don't end on minor chords. And Wally and Kassie are likable. You want him to pull it together. You want being a father to give him the guts to be a husband, even if it is a little backward. The Unexpected is quite expected in the end.
Aniston has taken some flack recently while promoting the film by suggesting that women don't need men to be mothers—and she was unlucky enough to get caught up in the culture war fray. The great irony is that The Switch doesn't actually suggest that single motherhood is ideal. Kassie even admits it's depressing at times. I would venture that this is because while women don't technically need men to be mothers, most of them want men when it's time to be a mother. The emotions of single motherhood are complicated, and even a glossy romantic comedy like The Switch is willing to acknowledge this reality. And also the fact that children want fathers. Watching Wally and Sebastian fall for each other was one of the most lovely parts of the movie. Ultimately, The Switch affirms the goodness of two-parent households. (So, hold your fire right-wing pundits.)
I think girls are going to keep singing about marriage and baby carriages while skipping rope. Some dreams stick. Besides, are kids making up lyrics about finding love online instead of sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G? Not yet. Unlike in most of life, change is blissfully slow on the playground.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- Would you be willing to be a single parent? Why or why not? Do you think there is any biblical or theological restriction on single parenting?
- Why do you think Wally found it so difficult to pursue a romantic relationship with Kassie?
- Given that Sebastian seems an awful lot like Wally without ever having met him, The Switch seems to promote a nature trumps nurture view. In your experience, does nature or nurture play a more important role in child development?
The Family Corner
The Switch is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual material including dialogue, some nudity, drug use, and language. A bare bottom makes an appearance in a play. Wally masturbates to a magazine featuring (chaste) images of Diane Sawyer when making the sperm donor switch (nothing explicit is shown, and the picture quickly fades out). Pregnancy and sex are frequent topics of conversation. And Wally drinks heavily at times.
Photos © Miramax.
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