If Christmas movies are truly your thing, Netflix has just released Family Switch, which just might fix your craving for that family comedy-drama underlined by magical events. There is a long list of such films, and sometimes they do really hit the mark. It’s a Wonderful Life is a classic of that subgenre, and there are many other films that don’t necessarily access the magical realm but seem Christmas-y nonetheless. Family Switch, as the name suggests, would be a ‘swap’ of a sort, but it isn’t two families swapping places if that’s what you thought. The situation is more close-knit within the family. Here we have the Walker family, so ignorantly dysfunctional that the angels had to conspire to teach them a lesson. The film brings suburban energy to the narrative and tries to present a slightly futuristic setting where technology has made it hard for families to communicate, but it’s not the kind of world where everything is run by AI. The film, starring Ed Helms and Jennifer Garner, is goofier than it is warm, and it doesn’t fit too comfortably into the mold of the traditional family movie. More than the premise, it’s the leads’ willingness to be wacky that makes this film quite funny to watch.
The story of Family Switch revolves around the Walker family, who had no idea that going to the planetarium on Christmas would change their lives. The family members swap their bodies, and the father becomes the son, and the mother becomes the daughter. Body swaps are not a new concept in movies. The excitement always relies on how the characters will behave once they find themselves in their new bodies. At the very beginning of the story, we are introduced to the family, which is not exactly on the same page about anything. Jess, the mother, is a brainy mom working at a top architectural firm and has a tough time dealing with her daughter CC, who is not as academically gifted as her mother and wants to play football instead. The dynamic between the father and son is exactly the opposite. The father, Bill, is a regular fellow who had a band and was cool in high school, but now he is a music teacher in the same school his son Wyatt, who is a mathematical genius, goes to. There are two other members in the family: the young Miles and the dog Pickles. None of them are spared Christmas. Even Miles swaps bodies with Pickles, which makes for some hilarious sequences.
As I said, the body swap thing in and of itself is interesting for only a short while. The endearing quality had to radiate from the characters themselves, but sadly, they are a little too annoying to be taken seriously. The movie doesn’t wish to be grounded in its storytelling and depends on the ‘old lady in the van’ type of character to give itself some joyful moments. We have a quintessential Ed Helms show on display in this movie. He is unabashedly juvenile the moment he gets to portray the part where he has occupied his son’s body. He is as goofy as Bill, and he always seems to remind me of Hangover and the ‘broken tooth’. Jennifer Garner seems to compete with Ed, and she brings her usual goofy self, but minimally. The kids CC and Wyatt, played by Emma Myers and Brady Noon, respectively, are perfectly cast, and they surprisingly don’t go overboard in trying to amp up the comedy of the scenes. Most of the comedy comes from the fact that the parents were now siblings, and the siblings were parents. There is an extremely awkward moment in the film where CC and Wyatt (present in Jess and Bill’s bodies) have to make out, thinking they have to convince the neighbors that they are indeed married and no body-swapping of any kind has taken place. I don’t quite know how I feel about such comedic scenes; apart from that, they are super uncomfortable to watch. The sequence of events after the magical swap is almost formulaic in a sense. The father deals with the son’s life, and the mother deals with her daughter’s. The result is, as expected, chaotic.
The film is not too keen on going too deep with its idea. It has a fairly good idea of how to make things funny and warm, and Ed and Jennifer have enough experience to know whether their performance’s tone is hitting the mark or not. Yet something is missing. The earnestness of a Christmas movie, which is essentially what makes or breaks such a film, seems sparsely sprinkled. The idea was always to depict how families, whose members have been neglecting each other, could be taught to actually see the sacrifices and efforts of each other. The film’s strengths—its goofiness and the awkward encounters between characters—are also too shallow at points. At one point, farts become the ‘funny’ moment of a scene. The writing doesn’t seem to have a strong foundation from which the characters could have flourished. When there is a chance to follow the characters organically, there is a sudden gag that breaks the flow.
Some of the characters, like the German neighbor, don’t seem to serve any purpose. Even if it’s a comedy, one cannot excuse having a totally pointless character in the film. The second act of the story really dwindles and seems to be running out of gas to carry on to the third act, where the family could return to normal. It seems like the jubilation of the finale was enough for the writers to not pay too much attention to how we got there. Family Switch is a decent Christmas movie that tries to recreate the magical time associated with the festival, but only does that very briefly, mixing a few too many unrelatable ideas together. For those who love Ed Helms no matter what he does or perhaps love Jennifer Garner’s smile, the film will be a breeze, and the comedy will only seem funnier and the ending much more heartwarming than it actually is.