We’ve reached a crisis point in American comedy: why can’t Jason Bateman get promoted or laid?
This summer’s comedies are stocked with middle-aged men who dream of having sex but never do. That’s a healthy sign for marriage, I suppose. But if you’re a married dad who secretly wishes he could spread the seed again, do you want to spend $10 to go watch a movie about another guy who can’t, either? Where’s the fantasy? Where’s the edge? Face it, this has been one long, scalding summer of “Whatever you do, do not make me have sex with the babysitter!”
So the infidelity comedy has become the fidelity comedy, and other than the audience, no one seems to get the short end of the stick–so to speak–as often as Bateman. He is the only guy in Horrible Bosses who doesn’t receive an explicit come-on from Jennifer Aniston. A couple of years ago in Extract, he got Mila Kunis into a hotel room where he … promptly fell asleep.
In The Change-Up, he plays a lawyer and family man who switches bodies with his irresponsible best friend, a womanizer having a hard time kicking off his acting career—probably because he has made the ill-advised career choice of living in Atlanta.
Disembodied from the ball and chain, the family lawyer gets to sleep in, smoke pot and figure out reasons not to have sex with Olivia Wilde. The womanizer takes on family responsibility that he knows nothing about, a legal career that he knows nothing about, and a tricky marriage to Leslie Mann (a gifted comic actress with a weird attraction to movies with recycled television plots).
There are two ways that this kind of narrative could have a chance at survival. One is to cast two well-established and opposite screen personalities. It might be enjoyable to watch this plot with, say, DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman in their prime.
The other is to do the arthouse version: have the characters excel in their new lives. The characters find they’re better being the other person than they are at being themselves. Their spouses are completely satisfied. The people around them like them better. Then you create interesting questions about what our identity really means to us.
You know you’re not going to find that type of soul-searching in a movie that starts with a father of twins taking incoming fire while changing diapers. While Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin launched the R-rated comedy wave, that is the only launch that The Change-Up is likely to make.