Whether by cosmic coincidence or some ingenious back-channel cross-marketing ploy, two of the summer’s more notable movie titles spin off of rather wild “what if” scenarios involving seed-for-hire. Who knew the down-the-line fates of sperm donors could be such a source of dramedy intrigue? But while The Kids Are All Right arrived in theaters with the imprimatur of alternative daring, thematically and cinematically, The Switch is a more complicated, and uneven, affair, which could be boiled down to a mutant child between Jennifer Aniston and Jeffrey Eugenides.
Aniston, whose presence on the big screen always seems a bit strained, or a bit colored by her smug as-seen-on-TV qualities, is at the cozy core of this agreeably twisted tale, which is based on the short story “Baster,” by respected fiction writer Jeffrey (Middlesex) Eugenides. What results is an odd blend of eccentric invention and popcorny business, rooted around the ticking-clock story of a woman who decides to become a mother, sans a man in her life, per se.
Lurking in the periphery is her former lover and now hopelessly neurotic (but loveable) friend, Wally, played with droll panache by another TV-bred actor, Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman. Here, Wally watches, through varying stages of curiosity, shock, protectiveness, and paternal instincts, as she goes through the process of finding the right seed. Seven years later, he finds himself hiding the realities of the secret contained in the film’s title.
Feature-length films fleshed out from short stories can work. Look at Brokeback Mountain, from Annie Proulx’s potent quick read. Here, though, we get the sense of extensive stretch marks on the material, as the film prolongs the tale, filling it with airy but tasty bits from actors we love to watch—Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, and now eight-year-old Thomas Robinson, one of the most endearing child actors of the summer.
Whatever detours and narrative gymnastics The Switch takes on its protracted path to resolution, we always sense that it will find its way back to Camp Feelgood, which it does. In short, Aniston wins out over Eugenides’s dark tendencies.