04 October 2010
Progress Educational Trust volunteerAppeared in BioNews 578
Based on the story by Jeffrey Eugenides
Directed by Alan Poul
The Switch and The Back-Up Plan are films about donor insemination and the single woman. Two New York women opt to use a donor's sperm after their dreams of settling down with 'Mr Right' and starting a family don't go to plan. Both films treat the topic of fertility treatment as rom-com territory rather than the makings of a gritty drama.
The Back-Up Plan is a predictable and clichéd rom-com with laugh-out-loud moments, including a hilarious scene where Zoe (Jennifer Lopez)'s pet dog eats her pregnancy test. Zoe is in her late thirties and desperate for a child, but hasn't met the right man. Instead, she arranges for donor insemination through a fertility clinic.
On the day she is inseminated, she meets the charming Stan (Alex O'Loughlin), the type of man she'd like to settle down with. Zoe struggles whether to reveal her pregnancy to him, but eventually confesses. Despite the initial shock, Stan decides to stick around and raise Zoe's donor-conceived children. But the stress of pregnancy and planning the rest of their lives threatens to destroy the newly-formed romance.
Unfortunately, the chemistry between Lopez and O'Loughlin is unconvincing and the plot far too outlandish to reflect the realities of fertility treatment and pregnancy. The film is rife with stereotypical, overacted and perhaps patronising pregnancy gaffs, including Zoe's mood swings and inability to fit into her pre-pregnancy clothes. These 'problems' make the conflict and romance somewhat contrived and shallow.
Like Zoe in The Back-Up Plan, the heroine of The Switch is also unmarried and desperate for a child. Forty-year-old Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) decides to get pregnant by self-insemination, but later discovers the dashing donor she chose may not be the father.
Her best friend Wally (Jason Bateman) is a neurotic and pessimistic character, whose only happiness in life is the time he spends with Kassie, whom he has strong feelings for. Wally is downhearted when Kassie rejects his offer of being the sperm donor and announces she has found the perfect donor, the handsome and athletic Roland (Patrick Wilson).
The plot twists when Kassie's friend throws her an 'insemination party' and Wally drunkenly replaces Roland's 'offering' with his own before blacking out. The film skips forward seven years when Kassie returns to New York with her six-year-old son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) in tow. Sebastian and Wally share many traits and form a strong bond, leading Wally to believe Sebastian is his biological son. Wally breaks the news to Kassie, hoping she will forgive him and allow him to have a relationship with his son.
The film starts slowly, but picks up when Sebastian (a brilliant performance from Robinson) is introduced. Although Aniston and Wilson deliver fairly generic performances, there are funny, touching and believable moments between Bateman and Robinson, as the two bond as misfits from different generations. There are also comedic performances from Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis, playing Kassie and Wally's friends.
These strong performances aren't enough to make up for an awkward plot. The Switch covers too many bases and fails to get to grips with the implications of using a known sperm donor. Instead, the donor (Roland) and male lead (Wally) are cast as romantic rivals. Both The Switch and The Back-Up Plan involve a romantic lead/father figure to 'complete' an idealistic family arrangement.
In both films, fertility treatment is glossed over and glamorised. Kassie and Zoe are wealthy New Yorkers with successful careers and financial freedom. Financing artificial insemination is not considered an issue, despite this being the most important and commonest problem for those considering it.
Kassie and Zoe are successful on their first insemination attempt, but the real pregnancy rate after donor insemination is very low per menstrual cycle. About two-thirds of women are not successful until after six cycles of treatment. The lengthy relational and emotional burden of artificial insemination is also overlooked. Are they useful to the person considering and struggling with fertility treatment? Absolutely not. But as an idealistic and empty pick-me-up, they're both spot on.