“The Change-Up”: Bros Switch Bodies in Puerile Comedy

A uniquely Freudian entry in the body-switching comedy canon, The Change-Up stars Jason Bateman as standard issue anal-retentive lawyer and family man Dave, and Ryan Reynolds as Dave's classically anal-expulsive stoner and 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!”

This mutual envy established, Dave and Mitch wake up the next morning having exchanged bodies, thanks to some mechanics involving a stroke of lightning and public urination — all of it hazy enough that it makes one long for the comparative narrative clarity of the magic Native American Tabasco sauce of Like Father, Like Son.

Directed by David Dobkin (whose workmanlike brand of broad Dudes Gone Wild comedy can also be seen in Wedding Crashers and Fred Claus), The Change-Up might 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 (one of which happens simultaneous to a legitimately gonzo set-piece involving two toddlers running amok in a spectacularly unbabyproofed kitchen), 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 (such as the WTF? moment of recognition, here made literal when Bateman looks into a mirror and exclaims, “What the fuck?!?”) 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.

A rare R-rated entry in a genre usually geared to teens, 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. One of these women persecuted for defecating is played by Mann who, as usual, is so naturalistic that her character's humiliation is actually heartbreaking.

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. Dave and Mitch use one another's bodies to launch journeys of self-discovery. Their involuntary disguises allow them to learn what people really think of them, and instead of the restoration of manhood each hoped for — sexual for Dave, professional and familial for Mitch — 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) and some kind of order is restored, 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. In a film about two straight men coming to terms with their true selves while forcibly confronted by their fear of anal function, it's almost a surprise these guys stop just short of actually Doing It.

Tags: , , , ,

Related Stories