The only real positive takeaway from Netflix’s dreadful yuletide family comedy Family Switch, other than the odd mild chuckle, is that it acts as a canary in the coal mine for body swap flicks.
As far as I know, filmmakers have only previously attempted a duel swap. While the results still depend on quality writing, the fun of this concept also comes from a slick dynamic between its two key players, and how well they can impersonate the other. That relationship alone can sometimes save an entire movie (see: The Change-Up). Family Switch pushes the envelope by having three pairs of partners swap with each other: a father and his son, a mother and her daughter, an infant and the family dog – no, this isn’t The Aristocrats. What the movie proves is that this is too much of an unfocused balancing act. The story can’t be adequately shared between everyone and the audience is unable to get a good read on anyone, before or after the switch.
Director McG (Charlie’s Angels , This Means War, 3 Days to Kill) rushes into the climactic body swap without a hint of awareness that the film’s primary family unit (Jennifer Garner, Ed Helms, Emma Myers, Brady Noon) are missing personalities and chemistry with each other. The same blind spot can be applied to every other person who steps in front of the camera. Everyone looks miserable, a very confusing detail considering most of the supporting cast are very funny comedians.
The mechanics of the body swap are muddled and convoluted. While this seems like a silly detail to fret over, the screenwriters (Victoria Strouse of Finding Dory and Adam Sztykiel of Scoob!) hinge the plot on the most minute variables under the supervision of too many conveniences. A fantasy like this benefits from simplicity, and Family Switch wants to over-explain everything; from the science of the swap to the humour to the feel-good epiphanies that happen when a family member is exposed to a secret truth about how they’re being perceived or how someone else is feeling.
The way Family Switch also disguises itself as a holiday movie feels manipulative too. It’s another slapdash example where movie goers are only reminded of Christmas because there’s a wreath in the background or when a pivotal scene features a pop-rock version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”. I’m hoping for two things with Netflix’s next holiday outing: 1.) that the movie’s quality will be in between Family Switch’s phoniness and the exaggerations presented in Best. Christmas. Ever! and 2.) the movie will actually be good.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie