“You are a terrible person.” That’s Date And Switch’s Em (Dakota Johnson) talking to Michael (Nicholas Braun), though it could be one of several Molly Ringwald types berating a mopey John Cusack clone in any given high-school comedy about raging hormones. The line hints at a truth more coming-of-age films should advantageously acknowledge: Teenagers are terrible people because they’re not complete people. As much as comedies like Superbad and American Pie want moviegoers to see their own school-age faults in the characters, they ask for a modicum of sympathy as well. That’s especially true of Date And Switch, which finds its twist on the “Let’s lose our virginity by prom night” ultimatum when one of its leads comes out of the closet after the pact is made.
That premise sets up a film that should be the story of Michael and Matty (Hunter Cope)—but Date And Switch is too frequently about Michael or Matty. The movie earns points for dealing so honestly with this aspect of teen sexuality, but some passages focus so tightly on Braun’s character that it’s easy to forget he’s not the one who made a huge revelation to his best friend and his now-ex-girlfriend. So while Matty pursues his first romantic relationship with a guy (a refreshingly toned-down Zach Cregger), Braun sulks his way through the second act, as Michael half-assedly pursues Em and rues the breakup that sets Date And Switch in motion. A looser, more personal movie might have poked and prodded at the way Michael and Matty’s relationship has shifted, but in the framework of a broad-and-bawdy comedy, this aspect of Date And Switch gets shoehorned into a metaphor about accepting change.
That message is one of several mixed up within Date And Switch, which plays like the product of an overly fussy post-production process. Matty’s parents (Megan Mullally and Gary Cole) are an everyday, straitlaced couple that turn wildly conservative mid-film. A chance for Michael and Matty’s band to play at prom is the biggest deal in the world—until it isn’t. At that prom, Compliance’s Dreama Walker turns up as a character whose introduction must’ve come earlier in previous drafts of Alan Yang’s script, and yet she speaks so few lines that her performance goes uncredited. All that apparent fiddling has the unfortunate side effect of draining most of the color out of a comedy that flags between one-off appearances by comic snipers like Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel, and Wendi McLendon-Covey.
And that’s the real shame about Date And Switch: It’s a movie about being true to yourself that’s reluctant to let its real character show. At any point that it looks likely to tweak sex-comedy convention or get truly weird, it reverses course at the last minute. In effect, it feels a lot like the characters at its center—not terrible, just incomplete. A comic take on this premise and these themes feels like a necessity in 2014. Unfortunately, Date And Switch isn’t the movie this day and age needs.