The Change-Up (2011)

Crimes:

  • Casting skilled comic actor Jason Bateman as an uptight family man and Ryan Reynolds as his unmarried slacker buddy, and then not allowing either to show much range in their performances, even after a freaky mystical occurrence leaves their characters in each other’s body
  • Making both characters outlandishly clueless about to behave when they find themselves in charge of someone else’s life
  • Obsessing over sex and bodily fluids, implying (in an none-too-original way) that single life is all about kinky sexcapades and married life is all about projectile pooping
  • Goosing the gags with awful special effects to make the naked women look more grotesque and to put Bateman’s twin babies in exaggerated physical danger when they’re left in Reynolds’ care

Defender: Director David Dobkin

Tone of commentary: So, so serious. Dobkin doesn’t just laugh at The Change-Up’s trashy jokes; he defends their integrity in ways that reveal he gave each one a lot of thought before committing to it. Even the most obvious clichés—like the use of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” during a seduction scene, or the way that Reynolds and Bateman get hammered and talk about their sex lives in a broadly guy-ish way—Dobkin admits he weighed carefully, before deciding that there can be something “very honest and real” in clichés. Dobkin also gives thanks to the execs at Universal for being so supportive of lines like “You look like a Jew.” Such courage.

What went wrong: Nothing that Dobkin can’t back up. Regarding the largely unvarying performances of Bateman and Reynolds, he says, “We very intentionally did not want to do imitations.” Regarding the cruddy CGI, Dobkin shrugs, “One of the challenges is that you don’t have the budget for visual effects that you have in a different kind of movie.” (Apparently the thought of not using effects at all never occurred to anyone.)

Mostly, Dobkin highlights the significance and creative process of every crude gag, from the scene where Bateman’s wife Leslie Mann takes a noisy dump before bed—“This was a huge moment in the script,” Dobkin says—to the scene where Bateman, in Reynolds’ body, finds himself working on a softcore porno movie in which he’s asked to penetrate the bodies of an unattractive woman and man. (“We added the thumb in the butt,” Dobkin says, in a rare moment in which he suggests that there might’ve been something lacking in Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s script.)

Dobkin is especially impressed with how he, his cast, and his crew took the ordinarily family-friendly body-switch comedy genre and gave it an R-rated twist, always testing how far into the gross-out and inappropriate humor they could go before preview audiences told them to pull back. When in doubt about whether a line of dialogue could be read as unnecessarily cruel or racist, Dobkin says he reminded himself that it was the character making the joke, not the movie, and he allowed it to go through. That way he could do what he really wanted to do: “Taking the Freaky Friday-type concept and just blasphemizing it and dragging it through the dirt and kind of beating the shit out of it and creating it as dirty as can be.”

Comments on the cast: “I felt like I had this powerhouse of four,” Dobkin says of Reynolds, Bateman, Mann, and Olivia Wilde (who plays a colleague of Bateman’s that he dates while in Reynolds’ body). “The performances and the colors are really sweet,” he adds, waxing poetic. Dobkin saves his greatest praise for Mann, saying, “She’s just got an incredible gift to understand where the pain and the frustration of her character is and make it funny and entertaining and also move you emotionally with that character as she goes through the journey.”

Inevitable dash of pretension: Here’s the most depressing aspect of Dobkin’s commentary: He’s clearly a thoughtful director with some good instincts. (After all, he did make the mostly entertaining Wedding Crashers.) He’s right about Mann, for example; she has some of the funniest and most poignant moments in the movie. Dobkin just seems to lack that kind of keen awareness when it comes to the material he’s working with. Instead, he talks up the scene where one of Bateman’s infants squirts shit in the actor’s face, saying “a moment like this in a movie is always a little bit ballsy” and that he felt he had “to protect and preserve” those moments that made him laugh the first time he read the script.

In fact, the whole commentary track offers one example after another of Dobkin either overselling or overthinking scenes that are either literally or figuratively shitty. At one point he says, in all seriousness, that he was drawn to this project because he wanted to use “the idea of switching bodies perhaps to illuminate a part of the human condition.” And what part would that be? “What I call the post-feminist male frustration with trying to be all things in our minds.” So, given the time to expound, Dobkin can credibly explain how his noble ambitions led to Reynolds jamming his thumb up a porn star’s ass.

Commentary in a nutshell: “Even if you’re doing un-classy things like pooping in people’s faces, you gotta be classy about it.”