Posted on Friday, August 5th, 2011 by Germain Lussier
In the race for best comedy of the summer, The Change-Up gives Bridesmaids a run for its money. It has all the laughs that were missing from The Hangover Part II, all the over-the-top crudeness that was missing from Horrible Bosses, all the life-lessons and heartwarming moments that were missing from Bad Teacher and puts them together in a nice, comfortable package. And while the cliched idea of a body switch comedy might not seem appealing on the surface, director David Dobkin keeps things interesting by pacing the film like a runaway train. Super-charged by two perfect lead performances by Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, The Change-Up can be wildly uneven at times, but somehow manages to balance it all out in a way that’s both satisfying and hilarious. Read more after the jump.
When we think of great body switch films we think of Big. We think of Freaky Friday. And now we’ll think of The Change-Up. Jason Bateman is Dave, a workaholic with a good heart who never has a moment to himself being a big time lawyer, husband and father of three. Then there’s his childhood friend Mitch, played by Ryan Reynolds. He’s single, kind of a loser, but good-looking and a real ladies man. They’re polar opposites and, once that’s all established in about 15 minutes, they pee in a magic fountain and wake up in each other’s bodies.
At first, it’s a bit confusing as to who is playing which character. We’re so used to seeing Reynolds as a Van Wilder-type and Bateman as a Michael Bluth-type, that the swap is initially awkward. The joy of The Change-Up, though, is seeing each actor play the other’s trademark style with such vibrancy. We always get to see Reynolds play the abrasive, outgoing, party guy, but when does Bateman ever get that chance? Unless he’s a Teen Wolf, of course. And we always get to see Bateman play the stuck-up straight man but when is Reynolds ever the responsible one? Unless he’s carrying a gun.
So you have two characters that, just by going against the grain, are instantly engaging and the film immediately puts them in raunchy, uncomfortable and offensive situations. Babies in danger, flying excrement, gratuitous nudity, urination and masturbation are all par for the course. There’s no question this is a hard-R rated movie. But once the characters, audience, and screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have their fun, the story slowly begins to transition into something more. Work becomes a real problem for Dave and Mitch. Family issues come to the forefront and each is forced to forget about the dumb stuff and get serious. The movie mirrors this change and its gradual transition of tone is handled with the utmost care and respect.
A lot of that is thanks to the strong females in the film. Leslie Mann, as Dave’s wife, and Olivia Wilde, as Dave’s crush, both are given a lot of rope to play with to create round, believable characters. Sure, each is forced to be naked (kind of) at certain points, but the confidence of each performance grounds the movie when it starts to veer over the line.
If you’re looking for negatives, the film definitely has some. Dobkin uses more CG than he probably should to show the human body in very unnatural ways. There are scenes that feel excessive and nutty. Plus, let’s face it, the idea of these characters pulling off each others lives is completely laughable. But, somehow, the script and the actors make it work by presenting characters that are relatable, flawed – most importantly – funny.
People are surely going to scoff at how The Change-Up effortlessly transitions between tones and at times goes too far for a laugh. However, I like a movie that swings for the fences. Despite its traditional dress, The Change-Up is incredibly risky and, ultimately, incredibly great.
/Film rating: 8 out of 10