Movie: The Switch ***
(15A, general release)
What is it about Jennifer Aniston? She feels like your disappointed sister, the nicest, prettiest girl in the class who somehow never managed to meet the right person.
That at any rate is the sweet but sad-eyed persona she's tended to adopt in her post-Friends career. And while she's easily been the most successful of the bunch as a movie star, the feeling persists that the right vehicle for her talents has never quite presented itself.
Like Sandra Bullock, she's a natural romantic comedienne who was unlucky enough to be born in a time where no one can write good rom-coms, which leaves her at the mercy of whatever happens to come along.
While by no stretch of the imagination perfect, The Switch is among the better scripts she's been handed, and has dark touches here and there that lift it slightly above the ordinary.
Based on a short story by Pulitzer-prize-winning Greek-American novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, The Switch casts Aniston in the role of Kassie Singleton, a beautiful and mysteriously single New York TV executive who wants to have a baby and feels she doesn't have time to hang about for Mr Right.
To this end, she decides to engage the services of a donor and impregnate herself by turkey baster at a jolly pregnancy party.
This may be the kind of ghastly social event that passes for a fun get-together in New York, but Kassie's best friend Wally (Jason Bateman) is not impressed.
A deeply neurotic and misanthropic stockbroker, Wally has feelings for Kassie but either doesn't realise it or is too cautious to do anything about it. He arrives at her pregnancy party, therefore, in decidedly unconvivial mood, and is soon drunk and bitter.
When he goes to the bathroom, he happens across the jar of sperm freshly donated by one Roland (Patrick Wilson), a handsome but drippy professor of feminist studies.
Wally has fun pretending to pour it down the sink, and when someone bangs on the door he drops the jar and the sample is lost. He then panics and replaces the sperm with his own by means best left unexamined, and is so drunk he subsequently forgets all about it.
Kassie gets pregnant, and decides to move to the midwest, and when she returns to live in New York seven years later she brings with her a suspiciously neurotic little son.
Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) is a miniature Woody Allen, who collects empty picture frames and worries about everything and makes a strange humming noise when he eats. As does Wally, who finds himself bonding with the boy as the penny starts to drop. The problem is Kassie thinks the newly divorced Roland is the daddy, and is even contemplating a relationship with him.
Very sharply written at times, The Switch starts brightly and is genuinely funny in patches. The midway time lapse is a bit clunky, but a more serious problem is a lack of character development that may have something to do with the plot's origins as a short story. Wally is a believeably pessimistic and introspective pain in the arse, but Aniston is given precious little to hang on to, and her Kassie remains frustratingly flat.
There are entertaining turns from Juliette Lewis and Jeff Goldblum, and Goldblum in particular does some most amusing deliberate overacting.
No attempt is made to reconcile Roland's evident dimness with the fact that he's supposed to be a college professor. But, that said, Patrick Wilson does a pretty good job of playing him.
Jason Bateman is a very fine comic actor, but however believable he might be as the perennially pessimistic Wally, the chemistry between him and Aniston is less convincing.
Most believable of all is Sebastian, a sweet little boy with that winning combination -- a tendency to fret and an overactive imagination.