The Real Offensive Language in ‘The Change-Up’

Posted on August 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Ellen Seldman, the mother of a special needs child, has written a heartfelt post for about the offensive language in The Change-Up.  It isn’t the (constant) four-letter words or graphic sexual references she objects to.  It is the crude references to Down Syndrome.  “It contains a scene in which a character asks a dad whether his twins are ‘retarded’ because they’re not yet speaking, then adds ‘I don’t know, this one looks a little Downsy.'”

I agree with her that the language is very offensive (I noted the use of the “r-word” in my review).  I think it is important to point out, however, that the movie is not making fun of special needs kids.  It is making fun of the “normal” idiot who uses that language.

The Change-Up is a very raunchy, graphic, intentionally provocative comedy.  But it is no more on the side of the use of that language than it is of the other irresponsible and disgusting behavior by the character, including exposing the babies to very dangerous items and advising the older child to beat up a bully.   I was more offended by the use of the r-word by characters portrayed more approvingly in other recent movies I have seen, most recently “Our Idiot Brother.”

I appreciate Seldman’s support for the very important “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign.  My first job was at a school for developmentally disabled children that had the r-word in its name.  That was a long time ago, and as with other words we now understand to be unacceptable, this one should be recognized as offensive and inaccurate.  Parents should make sure they never use the word, even jokingly, and make clear to their children that they will not tolerate it.


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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

The Change-Up

Posted on August 4, 2011 at 6:45 pm

The movie has barely begun and Dave (Jason Bateman) already has projectile baby poop all over his face and in his mouth.  There is so much excretory material in this film that doctors specializing in intestinal and urinary issues could probably get some continuing education credits for watching it.

It’s yet another body-switching movie, “Freaky Friday” with baby poop and (very) grown-up female nudity.  It’s as if they took Goofus and Gallant from the pages of Highlights Magazine and put them in a screenplay that channels Judd Apatow (providing the raunch, the perpetually juvenile male, the fear of women, and the warm-hearted valentine to Leslie Mann) and Adam Sandler (puerile comedy, the perpetually juvenile male, the dislike of women, and the odd combination of treacly sentiment and brutal slapstick).  The screenwriters of “The Hangover” and the director of “The Wedding Crashers” bring some high spirits and good-natured affection for their characters.

Dave is Gallant, a good husband, a good father, and a good lawyer, who loves his family but feels that he never has a moment for himself, between working on a big deal that will decide whether he makes partner, giving the twins their three a.m. bottles, and making it to “dialog night” with his wife.  Dave’s  lifelong friend is Goofus, I mean Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), whose primary occupations are smoking pot, and sleeping with as many girls as possible.  His only successful achievement is disappointing his father (Alan Arkin).  At that, he excels.

The two of them go out to watch a game at a sports bar.  On the way home, they stop to pee in a fountain, and somehow that switches their souls.  The next morning, Mitch wakes up in Dave’s bed, in Dave’s body, and Dave wakes up in Mitch’s bachelor apartment and rockin’ Sexiest Man Alive/looks-great-in-the-Green-Lantern-super-suit bod.

In a plot twist from body-switching movie “Big,” the magical fountain has been moved, and it will take a while for the local bureaucracy to track it down so they can pee themselves back to normal.  And that gives Dave and Mitch a chance to live each other’s lives, alternating fantasy and excruciating humiliation, often simultaneously.

Dave takes Mitch’s body to what he says is his big opportunity as an actor.  It turns out to be a “lorno” — light porno, which requires the straight-laced family man who got a vicarious thrill from his friend’s description of his highly varied sex life to get some non-vicarious misery.  Meanwhile, Mitch as Dave manages to say the wrong thing in a crucial meeting and derail the big deal that would have made Dave a partner in his firm and at the three am feeding in the kitchen he puts the twins down next to the knives and electric sockets.

It is more fun to watch the two guys ease into each other’s lives.  Dave rediscovers the pleasures of having time for himself.  And Mitch for the first time discovers what it is to see something through.  (And to see the kind of highly personal and private moments that only married couples allow each other to see.)

There’s not a lot of acting here; this is not “Face-Off,” where Nicolas Cage and John Travolta made a preposterous idea work with cleverly layered performances.  Reynolds never masters Bateman’s dry delivery and Bateman’s attempt to incorporate Mitch’s wink looks more like a nervous tic.  And the very talented Leslie Mann is underused in yet another disappointed wife role, especially when her “husband” forgets the very important “dialog night” and says he does not find her attractive.  (She also does a nude scene that makes it hard to imagine anyone would forget her or find her anything but extremely attractive.)  Olivia Wilde has some fun as a lawyer who has elements of both Dave and Mitch, giving warmth and a little vulnerability to a character who would otherwise just be a superficial fantasy figure.

The film’s strength is less its outrageousness than its unpretentiousness.  This film has no ambition beyond making the audience laugh and it is good-natured enough to keep us on its side.


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