A couple weeks back, I blogged on the secret baby trope in romance–where usually a female character gets pregnant without telling the baby’s father, and then later is romantically reunited with him. This week I’m looking at a twist on this trope in the romantic comedy The Switch.
Unlike the way this trope usually plays out, in The Switch, the woman is the last to know who the real child of her father is, though the story offers many of the same benefits and surprises that secret baby romances usually do.
In the 2010 film, Wally (Jason Bateman) and Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) have been friends for years. They once dated, but it didn’t take–mostly because Wally is incredibly neurotic and pessimistic. At the start of the movie, Kassie tells him that, despite being single, she’s ready to be a mom–and wants to get artificially inseminated. Wally is naturally critical of her plans (because, of course, he’s got Feelings for her he can’t seem to share), and the two fight.
Yet Wally grudgingly shows up at her insemination party, where the donor Roland (Patrick Wilson) is already in attendance, ready to provide his contribution. Wally’s unhappy about the situation, and gets drunk and takes a weird pill from Kassie’s friend. He eventually stumbles into the bathroom, where Roland’s sperm waits in a cup, and drunkenly messes around with it–then accidentally drops it in the sink! We can see the wheels turning in Wally’s addled brain–he’s got to replace the seed. Unfortunately, he’s so out of it he won’t remember this moment for years. Consent-wise, it’s a strange moment–she hasn’t given him permission for this, but he’s beyond out of it–and the situation is made slightly less terrible by the fact that it’s the adorably arch Jason Bateman in the role. You could maybe forgive a guy friend if he did this, but only if he were Jason Bateman.
Afterwards, Kassie becomes pregnant and moves away to raise the child, and the two lose touch.
Flash forward seven years. Kassie moves back in town, complete with a son, Sebastian. She calls Wally, and the two friends reunite. As I’ve said before, secret baby stories are almost always second-chance romances too, though you could imagine this movie happening as a friends-to-lovers tale because of the artificial insemination aspect. (Maybe Wally could’ve added his sperm to the cup to just cover his goof, though in The Switch you get the sense it’s at least in part because of Wally’s jealousy of the donor and repressed feelings for Kassie.)
Kassie’s son, of course, isn’t what Wally or anyone else expected: instead of a confident, athletic boy like his supposed biological father, Roland, Sebastian is intense and neurotic, complete with hypochondria, insomnia, and many weird fixations and anxieties. He’s like a mini-Wally, as strangers keep pointing out.
As I wrote in my earlier post, some of the fun in the secret baby trope is the dramatic tension of wondering how male characters will react to the fact they’ve fathered a child. Here, both characters are in the dark for the first half of the film; only the viewer knows that Wally is Sebastian’s father at first. So instead of that one big moment of the father character finding out, we get both parents being surprised. We also don’t get the downside of the secret baby trope, the possible confusion, disbelief, and anger at the female character for withholding such a big secret from her child’s father–though Wally’s sperm switcheroo isn’t exactly a #lifegoal for most people.
Wally eventually starts to remember his mistake, with help from a friend and a few snippets of memory. Halfway through the movie, with a look over his face only Jason Bateman could express, he exclaims, “I hijacked Cassie’s pregnancy? How could I not remember that?”
He starts to tell her, but when she suspects he’s telling her he has feelings for her, he cuts her off, saying that’s not it, and she storms off, embarrassed. Basically, he screws up, because the movie’s only been running an hour. Meanwhile, Kassie’s been hanging out with the donor Roland, who’s newly single and expresses interest in getting to know both her and Sebastian (whom he believes to be his son) better. What follows is a series of scenes of Roland trying to bond with Sebastian and failing, Wally and Sebastian bonding over bullies and lice, and Wally and Kassie being awkward around each other.
One of the pleasures of a secret baby story is that it can be very heartwarming. There’s not only the romance between the leads, but the relationship(s) between parent and child–which often changes the adult character(s) for the better. This is true in The Switch, as Wally softens and learns to care for Sebastian, finally expressing to Kassie near the end that his son has changed him. This bromance (if I can use that term with father and son) often overshadows the romance in The Switch in sweetness and development, as the kid is adorable and the neurotic pairing of Wally and Sebastian is perfection.
It all ends happily, of course, and despite its modern take on secret babies, The Switch delivers one of the best parts of the trope: the uniting of not only two people, but a family.
Have you seen The Switch? If so, let me know your thoughts!
Check back later this spring when I’ll be looking at a new trope as part of this series!