When I told my dad I would be seeing The Change-Up (playing here in the Fort) this afternoon, his first question was whether it was about baseball. When I explained the plot, that Jason Bateman, playing Dave, a father of three young children with a high-pressure job as a corporate lawyer, switches bodies ala Freaky Friday with Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), a good looking bachelor with no steady income yet a suspiciously nice apartment and wardrobe, he asked, “Does Jason Bateman refuse to switch back?” Well, Dad, that’s hard to say.
Those of us who lived through the high point in cinematic history during the late ‘80s when body-switching comedies were all the rage, know that the lesson is always the same: appreciate where you’re at and what you have and do the same for others. The Change-Up doesn’t deviate from that basic theme, though at times it seems it’s going to be extremely subversive and answer Dad’s question in the affirmative (an imaginary movie I’d sort of like to see, much like the Bad Teacher that wasn’t). Once Dave gets the hang of Mitch’s life, his days of Epicurean pleasure—preparing and eating gourmet meals, gazing at fish in childlike wonder at an aquarium, learning to rollerblade—are in stark contrast to the depressing definition of marriage and parenthood that he imparts to Mitch. Basically, the way he puts it, you willingly surrender all autonomy to your wife, and treat your children with the fear and deference one usually affords to malevolent tyrants. Framed within this understanding of adult life, Mitch’s eventual embrace of gruelling late nights at the office and grim-faced child care feels a little false, and Dave’s initial reluctance to return to his family a little reasonable. But eventually everyone wants to reclaim their own bodies, and fine, whatever. I’m not seeing this movie for a sociological treatise, I’m there to laugh, and The Change-Up cannot help but have genuinely funny moments, containing, as it does, Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds. My issue with the film is that the two characters, and actors, are too similar.
Because the message of these types of movies is so consistent, for me, the pleasure in the genre comes from the disparity between the bodies and lives of those doing the switching. The best example is Tom Hanks playing a thirteen-year-old boy who is aged into an older version of himself in Big, but even the otherwise forgettable Vice Versa gets the idea, having Judge Reinhold switch bodies with Fred Savage. They’re way different, see? Comedy! Mitch and Dave, though, are best friends who are both excellent at bringing the snark. There’s no possibility for the delight that comes with watching an actor impersonate someone very different from themselves. What do I mean? Let’s indulge in the thought experiment that The Change-Up 2 gets green-lit and I was in charge of casting Bateman’s body-switching counterpart. Here are my nominees:
1. Jason Statham. Now here’s someone who’s way different than Jason Bateman! Physical type, cinematic presence, accent—we’ve got it all. And can you imagine Statham trying to modulate his badassery to project Bateman’s trademark understated sarcasm? It’s gold, Jerry!
2. Samuel L. Jackson. See above.
3. Al Pacino. Watching Bateman channel an actor notorious for playing a bombastic version of himself would be pretty amusing. Maybe he could be Dave’s grandfather or something? I can’t come up with everything screenwriters!
4. Werner Herzog. Herzog is the most underused comic actor in Hollywood. If you’ve seen his genius performance in Incident at Loch Ness, you know what I mean.
5. Leslie Mann. She actually plays Dave’s wife in this film, and I think a story that looked at these two characters living each other’s lives might have been quite interesting. The Change-Up hits an Apatovian note of fascination with male bodies and juvenile disgust at female ones, so let’s take that to the extreme and have them live in each other’s bodies! And seriously, I think Mann has the chops to pull it off.
The Change-Up is low-grade amusing and sporadically laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s not for everyone. Here’s a litmus test to help you decide whether you’ll be able to overlook the forced moral and occasional draggy bits: Do you find Bateman and/or Reynolds inherently funny? Did you like 17 Again? Or, for that matter, 18 Again!? If the answer is yes to any of the above, then go.