No one wants to be the one to raise his hand and be so uncool as to say “I’m offended,” but I’m willing to take that risk after seeing The Change-Up. I’ve tried to make my peace with what I call The New Vulgarity, as Hollywood has jumped on the R-rated comedy bandwagon, but it isn’t easy. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who co-scripted The Hangover, and David Dobkin, who directed Wedding Crashers, clearly took their mandate seriously with this film, updating a time-worn premise about two characters switching bodies and vulgarizing it.
Of course, one viewer’s idea of smuttiness may be another’s sweet spot for—
—belly laughs, especially as civilization is crumbling all around us. I’m not a fan of toilet humor—which in this case actually involves gags about people using the toilet and/or talking about their bodily functions. That’s just the tip of the iceberg: this movie seems positively eager to break down supposed barriers and wallow in foul-mouthed, crude behavior and dialogue. But, like Friends With Benefits, it doesn’t want to deviate so far from Hollywood’s comedic norm that we don’t root for the protagonists, so at a certain point the film grows serious in its character development and even becomes sentimental.
What saves it from completely going down the drain is the likability of its stars: Ryan Reynolds, who plays a pot-smoking, potty-mouthed screw-up, and Jason Bateman, his lifelong best friend who’s a workaholic lawyer and dedicated father, if a bit neglectful of his wife, Leslie Mann. Their humanity softens some of the coarseness of the screenplay.
Because the film is enjoyable at times, I have to wonder how much (if anything) would have been lost if it had been toned down a bit. Would audiences have complained that it wasn’t edgy enough? Might it have suffered in comparison to other recent hit comedies?
Or could it have pleased an even broader audience than its R rating will yield? We’ll never know. I do know this: if The Change-Up is successful we’ll have to brace ourselves for the next round of vulgarity—and I really don’t want to think about that!