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Non-Review Review: The Change-Up

This movie was seen as part of Movie Fest, the rather wonderful film festival organise by Vincent and everybody else over at movies.ie. It was well worth attending, and I’m already looking forward to next year. Good job all.

Body swap comedies are pretty much a subgenre unto themselves. There’s a fairly standard formula, much like the conventional romantic comedy, but the success or failure of a given movie rests pretty much entirely on the execution of that formula. It’s finding the wit and energy to inject into a familiar structure, to produce an interesting and compelling result. It’s been done with considerable frequency. However, The Change-Updoesn’t really generate enough laughs consistently to make a memorable addition to this category of comedy.

Just kidding around...

It’s not fair to dismiss the movie as predictable. We know that both leads will inevitably find themselves while living in another’s body, and also come to have a newfound respect for one another. We know the transition will be initially jarring, but that each of the leads will come to find some appreciation for their strange circumstance, but that they’ll eventually either come to want their old life back, having discovered that the grass is not, in fact, greener on the other side. The fact that both will grow from the experience is as inevitable as the male and female lead hooking up in a romantic comedy. It’s a standard out-of-the-box plot that needs just a hint of customisation to work.

The problem is that The Change-Up can’t seem to find that hook, for its own sake. Sure, it’s a little bit more profane than the body-swapping flicks of old, but is that really a gimmick? Especially when the crass nature of some of the events don’t even seem to add up to especially funny jokes? There are some hits, but most of the movie feels fairly conventional, and – despite some graphic poop jokes near the start – remarkably safe.

Swapping stories...

This feeling of comfort feels at odds with the R-rating that the film seems so proud of. It relishes every topless shot, and seems fascinated with references to its two leads’ genitalia. However, the film really suffers because it drags out the inevitable emotional revelation. I feel like we don’t learn the moral of the story once, we learn it quite a few times, and it’s needlessly drawn out. It’s schmaltz-y, over-emotive stuff that might have worked if the movie hadn’t tried to seem so tough and “in your face” a half-hour earlier. I think that this strange dissonance is what really kills it – the fact that it is simultaneously so earnest about the importance of its themes, while trying to offend as vigorously as possible.

And I can’t help but feel that part of the fun of a great body swap movie, like Face/Off, is in watching two actors offer impersonations of one another – which can be hilarious in the right hands. Unfortunately, I don’t think it really works here. Jason Bateman is an actor who works very well as an understated straightman, and Ryan Reynolds has this strange enthusiasm around him. Both are, I’d suggest, strong comedic talents, but I don’t think either lends themselves to imitation particularly well.

Babies on board...

I’d argue that only Reynolds could really pull off the actor’s wacky over-the-top energy without becoming truly irritating (although many might argue it’s annoying even from him), and Bateman doesn’t really try. Reynolds does a much better impersonation of Bateman, but – even then – it feels a little too subdued. Part of the joy of these sorts of films is seeing actors play against type, and the problem is that I really don’t see either actor feeling like a strange choice for either role – I don’t feel like either actor in any given situation is “a fish out of water.”

All that said, the movie does have a few laughs, particularly when it comes to the “untitled awesome project”that Reynolds’ character is attached to – I think that represents the point where the outlandish and offensive humour really worked. Apart from that, it does very well to offer a strong supporting role to Leslie Mann, a comedic actress we really don’t get to see enough of. In fact, the movie assembles a fairly solid supporting cast – including Alan Arkin, Olivia Wilde and Greg Itzan – only to do nothing with them. It feels like a real waste.

A swap meet...

The Change-Up feels like a bit of a disappointment, to be honest. It’s an overly safe movie that covers up the fact that it doesn’t have anything clever to do with its premise behind a very foul sense of humour. It does work, but it doesn’t work quite often enough to make this a body-swap comedy for the ages.

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