The Change-Up

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!


  1. Dave says:

    Not one moment of nudity, not one of the curse words was necessary to make this film work. None of what humor there was derived from either of these. It seems very strange to me that film-makers continue to produce movies whose apparent target audience, i.e., adolescent boys, is too young to buy tickets for these R rated films.

  2. David says:

    Yeah, we seem to’ve crossed a line somewhere. I don’t mind hearing, or using, the F-bomb occasionally (ask any of my friends!) but we seem to be at the point now where, because certain artistic boundaries have CONSTRICTED so much (and I’m talking to YOU, Political Correctness), other boundaries — the wrong ones — seem to be EXPANDING by way of compensation.

    The result: You can be grosser now. A lot grosser. So movies ARE.

    Hence the SIGHT of vomit being more prevalent now. And the SIGHT of semen. And (God help us) the SIGHT of BM.

    My litmus test has always been, if you can imagine a backward 10-year-old boy writing the joke (As in: “What if, um, like, a giant TURD just came flying out of the guy’s ASS!!! Ha ha ha!!!”) then it’s probably a bad joke.

    Hence, our present situation.

  3. Mark says:

    I personally have no problem with anything that’s vulgar AND funny. But movies like this one are asking me to agree that something is vulgar AND THEREFORE funny, as if they were the same thing, and I don’t buy that. Just make it funny and I don’t care whether you get vulgar or not. Don’t try to tell me, “Look at the lengths we’re willing to go to—you’d be ungrateful not to laugh at this.”

  4. Martin says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the trend towards vulgarity. I was on a cruise last week and the ship’s video library was tiny. So, on a lark I watched “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “The Hangover” as the public adored these comedies and I wanted a good laugh. With both films (especially the latter), I barely laughed and just felt uncomfortable with how nasty and unlikable the people and situations were. Plus, I can’t recall laughing all that much, as too often the punchline was just an obscenity–not a well thought-out line or plot twist.

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