If the Hollywood studios still made the type of urban comedies they made back in the early 1970's starring George Segal (usually) as a neurotic nebbish, then Jason Bateman's big-screen career would certainly be secure. As he displayed consistently on Arrested Development, the actor's dry delivery and slyly observant manner are a perfect match for Wally Mars, the comically cynical equities analyst he plays in this sadly overlooked 2010 romantic comedy co-directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon (who much to my surprise, helmed the Will Ferrell figure-skating comedy, Blades of Glory). Although he is the true protagonist of the story, the movie was marketed as a Jennifer Aniston vehicle. She plays rising TV producer Kassie Larson, his long-ago girlfriend who has relegated him to the "friend zone" even though he obviously hasn't gotten over her.
Written with verve by Allen Loeb (who also co-wrote Aniston's other 2010 movie, the Adam Sandler starrer, Just Go With It), the story revolves around Kassie's ticking biological clock. In a seven-years-back flashback, she is seen deliberately bypassing Wally as a possible sperm donor in favor of a more predictable candidate, Roland, a struggling associate professor at Columbia, who happens to be married and drop-dead handsome. At an "insemination" party, Wally gets wasted and drops the carelessly placed vial of Roland's semen down the bathroom sink. This leaves Wally no choice but to replace the sample himself. Kassie eventually becomes pregnant and moves back home to Minnesota. Flash forward to the present, and Kassie returns to Manhattan with her six-year-old son Sebastian in tow. The fact that Sebastian acts like a miniature version of Wally gets completely past Kassie but not Wally who slowly realizes that out of his stupor years ago, his son was conceived.
Although this indiscretion would seem like the perfect excuse for Wally to reveal his true feelings for Kassie, complications ensue when she starts a relationship with Roland, now desperately on the rebound from a bitter divorce. At the same time, Wally forms a close bond with Sebastian who naturally gravitates toward him because of their mutual idiosyncrasies. Bateman handles Wally's evolution from self-absorbed fatalist to paternal protector with aplomb and surprising depth. Aniston is better served here than in most of her standard-issue romantic comedies, and the sharp interplay between these two actors, especially in the beginning scenes, is refreshingly rapid-fire like a modern-day "His Girl Friday". With his constantly forlorn expression interrupted by moments of genuine happiness, Thomas Robinson is terrifically understated as Sebastian, and his unforced scenes with Bateman represent the true high points of the film.
A crack supporting cast has been assembled. As Wally's best friend and manager, the sarcastic ladies' man Leonard, Jeff Goldblum takes a predictable role and gives it his special, off-kilter twist. The result is his funniest turn in years, for example, his use of the term "ill-advised" during the moment of revelation is hilariously unexpected. The same can also be said for Juliette Lewis, who plays Kassie's constantly inappropriate best friend Debbie with her spacey delivery intact as she slings clever putdowns at Wally. Even Patrick Wilson, saddled with the no-win role of the golden boy Roland, who has no capacity for honest introspection, is funny in a role that gets diabolically transparent as the proceedings get complicated. The 2011 DVD/Blu-Ray offers a standard set of extras - a fifteen-minute making-of featurette ("The Switch Conceived"); about ten deleted and alternate scenes running for nearly half an hour in total, one a more purposeful variation on the central scene; and a brief blooper reel. Give it a try.