Jennifer Anniston plays a single woman, Kassie Larson, who simply has not met the “right” man to marry, and with whom to have a family. On the far side of 40, her biological time clock is ticking rather loudly. And so, she decides, rather personally and preemptively, that she’s going to have a baby, anyway. So thoroughly post-modern, right?
It’s interesting that Jennifer Anniston, the actress, has apparently engaged in some verbal volleys through the media with certain right-wing commentators who want to decry this kind of role-modeling. They say it encourages young American girls to think in terms of not “needing” a man in order to start their family. Ms. Aniston, for her part, has gone on record as supporting women who make this choice, under the rubric that it’s their life, and therefore their choice. The rebuttal goes somewhat along the lines that a child deserves a father figure, and so something essential would be missing in the development of the child. (Another form of this debate appears in the recent film “The Kids Are All Right,” where a lesbian couple decides they will both avail themselves of the “in vitro fertilization,” again the supposition being that the children wouldn’t “need” a father figure.)
In “The Switch,” the issue is handled, so to speak, with some humor. Jennifer’s man-friend-of-long-standing-but-he’s-not-my-boyfriend, Wally (Jason Bateman), is invited to the “insertion celebration” party, and in a drunken, jealous, stupor, switches the essential bodily fluid with his own. Therefore, the fertilized egg is also partly his own. Therefore, the boy, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), is also his son, but Wally’s too timid to come forward and tell the truth, instead hiding behind repressed memory and lack of desire to make a lasting commitment.
The truth comes out, of course, but not before Sebastian actually develops some affection for this “Uncle Wally,” who seems to understand his idiosyncrasies better than anyone. Kassie, meanwhile, thinks she is in love with the original “donor,” who at the time was unavailable, but has since become a suitor. The emerging point of no return finally propels Wally to admit what he should have revealed long ago.
Jennifer Anniston is both believable and likable in this role. She has become an accomplished actor with a veteran sense of comic timing, together with a winsome “girl-next-door” sort of agreeable demeanor. We are rooting for her to find her way, navigating through relationships that are not what they appear, and through motherhood, which hardly ever develops as expected. There’s a sort of distilled, melancholy, angst-ridden atmosphere to this movie, where everything is not all sunshine and smiling faces, but trust is difficult, and lasting loyalty is even more difficult.
“The Switch” has surprising emotional depth, and therefore greater appeal than a merely typical romantic comedy, no matter where you stand on the Big Daddy Necessity Debate.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor, Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.