The Change-Up Misses the Plate
A uniquely Freudian entry in the body-switching comedy canon, The Change-Up stars Jason Bateman as standard-issue anal-retentive lawyer/family man Dave, and Ryan Reynolds as Dave's classically anal-expulsive stoner/playboy childhood friend Mitch. When sober, Dave begrudgingly tolerates Mitch's wild-animal routine. One night, when both are drunk, Dave admits he's secretly jealous of Mitch's life of reckless indulgence. Grass, greener, etc. "You come home every day, and you're surrounded by people who give a shit about you!" Mitch exclaims, not for the first time betraying his soft spot for Dave's wife, Jamie (Leslie Mann). "What more could you ask for?" Ask a stupid question, etc. Dave's answer: "I want to have sex with strangers!"
Dave and Mitch wake up the next morning having exchanged bodies, thanks to some mechanics involving a stroke of lightning and public urination.
Directed by David Dobkin, The Change-Up may not be terribly interested in explicating exactly how pissing can activate the transfer of a soul from one corporeal vessel to another, but then, it's also not terribly interested in souls. What it is interested in is piss, not to mention corporeal vessels — the ugly realities of bodies and the fluids they excrete.
This is hit-or-miss stuff. For every genuinely, productively strange conversation between Dave and Mitch about one or the other's penis, there are seemingly three gags centered on the simple fact that shit, literally, happens. But at least this scatological focus undeniably, unexpectedly tweaks the basic tropes of the switcheroo flick with a kind of horror-comedy built around men in their late 30s confronting the basic facts of bodily function as if for the first time.
The Change-Up pivots on the discrepancy in life experience and hipness between an adult and an adolescent, and, uh, distinguishes itself by maintaining an extreme, puerile worldview while finding a way to wedge "adult language" into virtually every sentence. Also there's at least one instance of nudity for every actress with more than one or two lines. For the trouble of disrobing, all of these female characters are rewarded with sexual rejection, in two cases because their male partners are horrified to learn that women have working assholes.
That, essentially, is The Change-Up's trajectory: from shit to schmaltz. "We have to use this!" Mitch says through Dave's mouth. But, par for the course, attempts to capitalize on their mystical accident turn the two bros into Better People. Their involuntary disguises allow them to learn what people really think of them, and instead of the restoration of manhood each hoped for the men get their egos further bruised and are reminded of their manly deficiencies in ways that make them desperate to redeem their real lives.
Once Dave and Mitch work out all their shit (metaphorically speaking), the only thing left to do is confront their latent longing for one another. The film's final dialogue exchange reveals The Change-Up to be one long setup to a bromantic joke that, in a roundabout way, maybe comes closer than any previous film to fulfilling that woebegone subgenre's implicit homoerotic endgame.
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