The Change-Up (Director: David Dobkin): There’s an offputting and rather absurd conservatism at the heart of the body-swapping genre. It’s as if the purpose for the whole thing is to learn some valuable life lessons. Sure, there’s a bit of time for hijinks, but in the end, it’s all about loving the life you have. When it’s time to get back into your own skin, you’re supposed to accept it. In fact, in just about all of these movies, the characters can’t wait to get back to their slightly improved normality. What makes this such a dishonest trope is that all of the fun happens when they’re breaking the rules of their everyday lives.
The Change-Up plays with this formula for just about half of its running time, and for those 45 minutes or so, it borders on subversive. Some of its moments of anarchy are exhilarating. But in the end, it plays it safe.
Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman) is a high-achieving corporate lawyer who spends too much time at the office and not enough talking to his beautiful wife (Leslie Mann). He’s a dutiful father, though, helping out with his young daughter and infant twins. He flirts with the gorgeous law associate at his office (Olivia Wilde), but there’s nothing about him that indicates he’ll really break out of this safe pattern.
Until the night he goes drinking with his old pal Mitch (Ryan Reynolds). Though they’re just about polar opposites, they’ve somehow managed to stay friends. Mitch is a wild-living barely employed actor who has coasted on his good looks and who seems to be enjoying his extended adolescence. While urinating together into a fountain after their night of drinking, each wishes for the other’s life, and the next morning, they’ve magically switched bodies. Time for some fun, right?
The scenes of Bateman (playing Reynolds) screwing up Dave’s job and abusing his children are gleefully transgressive, and both actors have fun with Reynolds’ potty-mouthed vocabulary. But when it comes to the sexual adventures that form a large part of Dave’s longing to change lives, the film chickens out. In the end, the nuclear family and monogamy triumph, not to mention that other good ol’ American value: hard work. There’s even a wedding at the end, in addition to an anniversary party and a career promotion.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy most of The Change-Up. Bateman and Reynolds have great chemistry, and Leslie Mann makes what could have been a shrewish stereotype into an almost real character, albeit one who resists the explanation given to her in favour of a continuing state of harried befuddlement at her husband’s new antics.
A subplot involving Mitch’s estrangment from his father (Alan Arkin) exists only to balance the character’s “difficulties” with relationships, but it’s far from convincing. Who wouldn’t prefer smoking dope all day, acting in softcore porn movies and sleeping with the most inappropriate partners? Oh, right, I almost forgot. There are life lessons to be learned.