First Time Watch: Switch (1991)

By Christian DiMartino

I’m a pretty big fan of the work of the late Blake Edwards. Edwards is of course the Academy Award nominated filmmaker of The Pink Panther, 10, and Victor/Victoria, and he was the husband of Julie Andrews, which makes him all the more cool. I won’t lie though, having just finished his penultimate film Switch, I remain puzzled. I remain puzzled because I not only don’t know what movie they set out to make, but also why they made the movie that they made.

The film’s credits are set over cloudy imagery, set to a slow, somber cover of “Both Sides Now.” I went into this movie completely blind, so immediately I was thrown off. I also thought Bruce Willis was in it, so maybe I should’ve done a little reading. Nonetheless, whatever tone they were setting with the opening is completely abandoned within the first five minutes, and for the bulk of the movie, I watched something that was so-so in the comedy department, but amusing… and then the ending arrives and right the hell out of nowhere they return to the tone of the opening.

I’m sorry, what?

With a movie like Switch, which has a concept that I’m sure nobody is intending on going anywhere near these days, I can’t help but admire the fact that this movie exists. I also found its high concept pretty interesting for what it is. As a movie it’s watchable, but you also sort of wish that they had cast the men a little differently. Yet you can have fun with it if you want to, and I did… until its complete shift in tone in the last 5 minutes undid everything, including a pretty game performance from Ellen Barkin.

So, what is this high concept? Well, the film follows a guy named Steve, who is a blatant and proud womanizer. Within the first five minutes, he shacks up with three women at the same time. It turns out though that these women are fed up with him and his s**t, and surely enough, they kill him. Going into this movie blind, you can imagine my surprise. So Steve’s fate is left up to heaven, who deems that Steve has been taken too soon, but if he can find redemption then he is free to carry on his life. Said redemption is that he has to get at least one woman to genuinely like him.

But… upon being brought back to life, The Devil suggests that Steve should really have to earn it. So what does he do? He turns Steve into a woman, and it’s a woman who is played by Ellen Barkin. Barkin is essentially the reason to watch this, if not for the complete nuttiness of this concept. I won’t say that Barkin’s work is quite on par with what Steve Martin does in All of Me, but she is having fun with it. So aware of her task, she sets out to find a woman in her/his life that likes him. One fun thing about this movie is seeing a bunch of now-famous faces (Tea Leoni, Catherine Keener, Lorraine Bracco post-Goodfellas, etc.) show up in bit parts as the women in his life.

Watching Switch, I kept sensing a missed opportunity in the casting, Barkin aside. No disrespect to Jimmy Smits, who is fine here and a fine actor, but maybe this movie could’ve came alive with Bruce Willis. Maybe my brain was onto something. What movie was I thinking of anyways? Blind Date? I don’t know. Anyways, I wish the men had been more comedically cast, because they all just sort of feel like a bunch of lame yuppies surrounded by Barkin. Maybe that was the point, but casting people who are actually funny would’ve actually benefitted.

But then the ending arrives, and it begs the question: was this a comedy? I mean, I imagine it was… but the ending would suggest something different entirely. My only theory would be that the movie had two writers and one wanted one movie, and the other wanted the other. But… Edwards is the sole writer on this film. I imagine that the movie he was making was supposed to be a commentary of the sorts, and as such it’s an interesting one. Yet I left this movie feeling sort of baffled and thrown off. Because just as I thought that this premise had really gone somewhere creative, Edwards ends the movie with a whimper. He takes what was already somewhat hit-or-miss and makes it mostly a miss.

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