The Change-Up reviewed: Ready for another icky sex comedy?

Reviews of the latest films.
Aug. 5 2011 3:08 PM

The Change-Up

Ready for another icky sex comedy?

After you've seen The Change-Up, check out our Spoiler Special discussion:

You can also download the program here, or you can subscribe to the Spoiler Special podcast feed via iTunes or directly with our RSS feed.

Still from The Change-Up. Click image to expand.
Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds in The Change-Up

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.

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Republicans Like Scott Walker Are Building Campaigns Around Problems That Don’t Exist

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

The World

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies

They’re just not ready to admit it yet.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 16 2014 4:08 PM More Than Scottish Pride Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 1:27 PM The Veronica Mars Spinoff Is Just Amusing Enough to Keep Me Watching
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.