I’m going to keep this short, because I feel like I’ve already reviewed The Change-Up (Universal Studios) at least twice this year. With slight variants, this is another chapter in the epic saga of body shame, gender panic, and free-floating contempt for the human race that Hollywood comedies seem to be issuing piece by piece in serial format. Just Go With It, Hall Pass, and now this: In film after grimly unfunny film, men chafe at domesticity, women whine about feeling neglected while displaying their near-naked gym-toned bodies, and after some mishaps involving mistaken identity and feces, heterosexual harmony is joylessly restored.
The Change-Up, directed by David Dobkin (who made the by-comparison-sophisticated comedy Wedding Crashers), isn’t the worst of this recent run of anxious, icky little sex comedies. The presence of Jason Bateman alone elevates it the merest notch above the abject Adam Sandler vehicle Just Go With It. Poor Bateman has been so underserved by his last few roles that his game professionalism is starting to look like saintly self-sacrifice. Before the opening credits have started to roll, Bateman has taken a double faceful of projectile poo from a baby whose dilating anus gets a closeup worthy of Garbo. The joke I’m about to make has probably already been made: Bateman serves here as the audience’s proxy; The Change-Up, this opening announces, is going to shit on us, and we’ll take it and like it.
Bateman plays Dave, a lawyer at a white-shoe Atlanta firm who lives in a posh suburban mansion with his wife Jamie (Leslie Mann) and their three children. Dave’s an uptight workaholic who envies the wake-and-bake bachelor life of his childhood friend Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), a hunky aspiring actor who lives alone and entertains a rotating roster of sexually voracious women. Mitch, a loner who’s partially estranged from his father (Alan Arkin), covets his friend’s family stability: “You’re surrounded by people who give a shit about you.” Peeing into an outdoor fountain together after a night of heavy drinking, the two men admit to each other, “I wish I had your life.”
Body-switch premise, activate. We never learn why this particular fountain possesses the ability or the desire to swap Dave’s and Mitch’s identities—the female statue at the fountain’s center, like the audience, remains silent and expressionless throughout—but the men wake up the next morning with their respective consciousnesses lodged in each other’s bodies. Irresponsible Mitch must learn to diaper twins and negotiate a multimillion-dollar merger; Type-A Dave must contend with aggressive booty calls and a role in a soft-core made-for-TV porno.
I won’t bombard you with all the indignities visited upon these characters by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writing team responsible for The Hangover. (Though it is worth noting that Leslie Mann has to play a moment on the toilet that makes the food-poisoning scene in Bridesmaids look like Chekhov.) The Change-Up might get away with being gross, sophomoric, and unoriginal if any of its three basic characters made a scrap of sense. Why do Jamie and Dave even associate with Mitch, an awful person who leers at his supposed best friend’s wife and spouts nonstop profanities in the presence of their children? Why, when her husband suddenly starts forgetting his children’s names and behaving bizarrely inappropriately, does Jamie suspect he’s having an affair—wouldn’t it be more logical to wonder if he had a brain tumor or early Alzheimer’s? In short, why are these people such blithering cretins?
To call The Change-Up misogynistic would be to shortchange the equal-opportunity disgust this anal-regressive film demonstrates toward men, babies, old people, and corporeal existence in general. Scene after scene seeks to elicit a collective cry of “ew!”: Pregnancy, ew! Plastic surgery, ew! Women with digestive tracts, ew! Forget about switching bodies; in this movie’s universe, the real problem is having a body at all.