Review: 'The Switch'

(Three stars)

Sincere relationship dynamics, solid writing and a strong performance by leading man Jason Bateman (TV's "Arrested Development") help propel this sweet romantic comedy.

Neurotic New Yorker Wally Mars (Bateman) enjoys a healthy friendship with best pal Kassie Larson (Jennifer Aniston). Although Wally has long harbored deeper feelings for Kassie, several years of romantic inaction have forced him into the friend zone. Kassie confides in Wally that she is anxious for offspring and plans to be artificially inseminated, despite Wally's effusive disapproval.

Kassie's quirky friend Debbie (Juliette Lewis) throws her a pregnancy party -- an "insemination celebration" -- during which Wally meets handsome sperm donor Roland (Patrick Wilson) and subsequently drinks himself into an inebriated daze. When Wally stumbles into a guest bathroom where Roland's donation cup waits and accidentally spills the contents, he refills it with a donation of his own. Wally awakes the next morning with a wicked hangover and blurred memory of the previous night.

Flash forward seven years. Kassie returns to New York after living in rural America with her 6-year-old son, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), in tow. Kassie and Wally quickly re-spark their friendship and Wally begins to realize that little Sebastian has some very recognizable qualities. As Wally spends more time with Sebastian, memories of that fateful night seven years prior start flooding in. How to break the news to Kassie that her son's dad isn't Roland "The Viking" but rather Wally the neurotic?

Bateman shines in the lead role. The relationship that develops between Wally and Sebastian draws both laughs and tears. Several scenes -- such as when Sebastian shows Wally his collection of frames or when Wally has to rid the boy of a lice problem -- are tender and memorable. Aniston's performance, though, is a tad too mannered. She tends to gesture a lot and speaks a bit too articulately. But her character is sympathetic and her charisma obvious.

Acting veteran Jeff Goldblum nearly steals the show as Wally's tell-it-like-it-is buddy, and child actor Robinson is terrific (and adorable) in a tough role. There are poignant observations about single parenting and the film's climax has serious emotional punch. The Hollywood ending is a little too neatly wrapped, though, partially deflating the otherwise honest flick.

Despite a relatively predictable plot and inconsistent pacing, "The Switch" scores thanks to a perfect balance of humor and heart.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual material, drugs and language. 1 hour, 41 minutes.

— Tyler Hanley

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