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#‘Family Switch’ Review: Jennifer Garner’s Netflix Body-Swap Comedy Is Ideal Holiday Background Filler

The most ideal movie to watch with family over the holidays is one everyone can love — one broadly compelling enough to convince everyone from disaffected tweens to grumpy grandparents to set aside their drama and come together in mutual awe. Barring that, the second most ideal movie to watch with family might just be one no one can truly hate. That’s where Netflix’s Family Switch resides.

The body-swap comedy isn’t good so much as it is completely and totally innocuous. Its characters are drawn in the broadest of strokes and the plot points unfold along creakily predictable beats, but it’s too blandly sweet to be irritating or offensive. If you’re just looking to fill a movie-shaped hole in your holiday plans, that might make it passable enough.

Family Switch

The Bottom Line

Innocuously sweet and entirely forgettable.

Release Date: Thursday, Nov. 30 (Netflix)
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Ed Helms, Emma Myers, Brady Noon, Bashir Salahuddin, Matthias Schweighöfer, Xosha Roquemore, Rita Moreno
Director: McG
Screenwriters: Victoria Strouse and Adam Sztykiel, based on the book Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Rated PG,
1 hour 44 minutes

At the center of the McG-directed film are the Walkers, a brood of upper-middle-class overachievers. Mom Jess (Jennifer Garner) is a hotshot architect on the verge of making partner at her big firm. Dad Bill (Ed Helms) is a rock musician turned cool band teacher. Seventeen-year-old CC (Emma Myers) is such a gifted soccer player that she’s got the U.S. national team in her sights, and Wyatt (Brady Noon) is such a STEM whiz that he’s applying for early acceptance to Yale as a ninth-grader.

Despite all those blessings, they’re beset by oh-so-relatable generational clashes. Type-A Jess and messy CC butt heads over the latter’s career plans. Extroverted Bill and nerdy Wyatt have so little in common that Bill jokes about not being Wyatt’s real father. It’ll take a miracle to resolve these seemingly minor squabbles, apparently, and that’s exactly what they get. Just before Jess’ big presentation, CC’s big game, Wyatt’s big college interview and Bill’s big performance with his band Dad or Alive (Weezer cameo as his bandmates), the Walkers swap bodies through some unexplained magic that somehow involves an Uber driver played by Rita Moreno.

It should be an appealingly high-stakes premise, but Family Switch makes its anodyne sensibility clear long before any of the mystical stuff even occurs. In the first minutes of the movie, Bill snags part of a candy-cane costume on a Christmas tree, slips on the puddle of dog urine under his feet and takes the whole tree down with him as he topples. Despite Helms’ committed physicality, there’s a rote quality to the entire pratfall. It feels less like a real joke than the outline of one. But it’s just good enough to warrant a small smile — maybe more for easily amused children or adults who just really enjoy watching Ed Helms fall on his face. In any case, the film moves on before the gag can wear out its welcome.

Once the characters do swap bodies, the fun of seeing them trade places is somewhat undermined by a script (by Victoria Strouse and Adam Sztykiel) that gives none of them a distinctive personality in the first place. The younger leads at least have the advantage of aping performers we’re familiar with already, and Myers in particular nails Garner’s supermom vibe. By contrast, Garner and Helms are game for anything — including belching, farting and retching — but all their enthusiastic mugging can’t mask the fact that CC and Wyatt aren’t much more than a stereotypical surly teen and a stereotypical geek.

Only twice did I actually laugh out loud during the 100-minute movie: once during a 13 Going on 30 reference that provided a welcome glint of self-awareness from a film that otherwise demonstrates no interest in trying anything new with the formula it’s following; and once during an argument about freeways that registered as the most authentically Angeleno moment in a story that involves multiple trips to the Griffith Observatory.

Needless to say, the characters around the Walkers fare no better. Many of these bit roles are filled by vivid comic talents like Paul Scheer, Pete Holmes and Xosha Roquemore, but even they struggle to make much of an impression in such one-dimensional parts. This is one of those movies in which none of the supporting figures seem to have anything going on beyond whatever the main characters need from them at any given moment — whether it’s the bully (Cyrus Arnold) whose feelings about Wyatt pivot seemingly out of nowhere, or the coworker (Ilia Isorelys Paulino) who has nothing better to do than reassure Jess (really CC) that she really is an incredible mother.

It’s probably not much surprise, then, that Family Switch‘s emotional side doesn’t hit very hard either. Occasionally the script hints ever so gingerly at deeper hurts. Jess’ concern about CC’s soccer aspirations is revealed to stem from her own thwarted athletic career, and Bill is rumored by his students to have given up the opportunity to be a part of Green Day, or Black Sabbath, or some other “band about a color,” to raise his family. A braver movie might have dug further into the parents’ ambivalence about what they’ve given up. But this one is practically allergic to conflict and difficulty, and so it brushes past these insights in favor of reassuring clichés about the rewards and joys of parenthood.

Paradoxically, this insistent niceness makes Family Switch less heartwarming than it seems like it should be. It’s simply hard to feel all that deeply for characters so flat and sweet they might as well be gingerbread people, resolving problems that barely seemed to exist in the first place. But it also makes the film completely and utterly safe as background filler. There’s nothing here that risks bringing up difficult or painful conversations, or steering toward an unhappy ending, or pressuring viewers to pick sides while you’re just trying to curl that last bit of ribbon or untangle that last string of lights. And once you don’t need it anymore, there’s nothing here that risks lingering in your memory for better or for worse, either.

Full credits

Distributor: Netflix
Production companies: Grey Matter, Linden Productions, Wonderland Sound and Vision
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Ed Helms, Emma Myers, Brady Noon, Bashir Salahuddin, Matthias Schweighöfer, Xosha Roquemore, Rita Moreno
Director: McG
Screenwriters: Victoria Strouse and Adam Sztykiel, based on the book Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Producers: Lawrence Grey, Ben Everard, Nicole King Solaka, Jennifer Garner, McG, Mary Viola
Executive producers: David Hyman, Jason Rosenthal, Victoria Strouse
Director of photography: Marc Spicer
Production designer: Jennifer Spence
Costume designer: Susie DeSanto
Editor: Brian Olds
Music: Pinar Toprak
Casting directors: Justine Arteta, Kim Davis-Wagner

Rated PG,
1 hour 44 minutes

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