"I'll just get my gear."

Switch

May 10, 1991

Okay, I’m looping back a little here. I initially skipped SWITCH because it didn’t look very fun to me. But as I think about MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE and a couple of the movies coming up later I’m realizing that changes in the portrayal of women in pop culture will be a major theme of this series, so it seems like a mistake not to look at a movie about a sexist guy waking up in the body of a woman. Also, Bryan in the FX2 comments wrote, “I don’t blame you for not wanting to review SWITCH but I was excited to hear your thoughts about it. It seems it could teach us a lot about 1991.” Good point. So I’m doing it.

SWITCH is late period Blake Edwards. That’s not a period held in high regard by anyone I’ve come across, but I did kind of like BLIND DATE (four years and three movies before this), which got terrible reviews. So you never know.

Steve Brooks (Perry King, CLASS OF 1984, MANDINGO) is “one hell of an advertising man,” which of course means he’s introduced in his office putting golf balls into that thing that business assholes putt into in all ‘80s and ‘90s movies. Then he gets an an unexpected call. Three of his ex-girlfriends, Margo (JoBeth Williams, POLTERGEIST), Liz (Lysette Anthony, KRULL, Bryan Adams videos) and Felicia (Victoria Mahoney, Brewster Place) invite him over for “a surprise party.”

He assumes – and they imply – that it’s a foursome, which he’s excited about because he was sure they all hated him. He doesn’t see it coming when they try to drown him in the hot tub to punish him for how he treats women. Suddenly he finds himself naked, covering his junk in the black void of Purgatory. God (who has both male and female voices – Richard Provost and Linda “Teela from He-Man” Gary) explains that he almost could make it to Heaven except every single women he ever met hates him. So he gets a chance to come back to life and “try to find one female who truly likes Steve Brooks.” Then the Devil (Bruce Payne, who had HOWLING VI: THE FREAKS the same year and PASSENGER 57 the next) convinces God to make it harder by turning him into a woman. So Steve goes to take a piss and discovers that he is Ellen Barkin (in her followup to SEA OF LOVE) all the sudden.

After the initial shock wears off, Steve-in-woman’s-body goes around in baggy Miami Vice clothes feelings his boobs, then switches to a mini-skirt but doesn’t know how to keep his legs crossed or walk in heels. Although people are very suspicious at first, he convinces everyone that he is Steve’s half-sister Amanda, who Steve asked to stay in his apartment before “going away to find himself,” and then fills in for him at the office and hangs out with his co-worker Walter (Jimmy Smits, on L.A. Law at the time) while tracking down women he previously slept with in hopes of finding one that doesn’t think he’s a piece of shit.

There’s a good trio of well known actresses I didn’t expect to be in this. First, Catherine Keener (who had been in SURVIVAL QUEST and a couple TV shows and stuff) shows up as Steve’s secretary who breaks down in tears to hear that he’s gone away, but explains that it’s tears of happiness because she hates him so much. Then Tea Leoni (whose only previous credit was on Santa Barbara) has a scene as Connie, a model Steve previously slept with. And Lorraine Bracco (who had just been in GOODFELLAS) plays Sheila, a client of the agency who’s a lesbian and makes moves on Amanda. I thought this would work out well for his womanizing, but his homophobia causes him to be grossed out by it. It’s a weird position to be in because you’re mad at him for being so afraid of gayness but you know that he as a woman shouldn’t be required to make sexual transactions to succeed in business.

When Sheila brings Amanda to an upscale lesbian club she gets manhandled by a gigantic bouncer who I want to mention only because I looked her up, her name is Faith Minton and she’s a former wrestler whose acting credits include “Female Boxer” in PENITENTIARY III, “Bouncer” on Alien Nation, “Size 12” in RAGE AND HONOR, and most importantly “Carla” in SUDDEN DEATH. The one in the mascot costume! Also she voiced Asia the Invincible in a dub of SWORDSMAN II.

Of course there’s some time spent on Amanda being a victim of the kind of casual sexism he was once prolific in, including being catcalled by construction workers. It’s cheap but often amusing to see him bluntly tell sleazy dudes to fuck off, or sucker punch them. And I genuinely laughed when a jogger (Jim Lovelett, F/X) started to say hi and Amanda immediately knocked him into some water.

Walter, who seems like he’s supposed to be much nicer than Steve, describes his pal as “a smart, funny, charming, dyed-in-the-wool male chauvinist who brags about most things that other guys are afraid to admit themselves.” He also claims he does nice things for people but keeps it on the down low. This seems like a kind of desperate attempt to either trick us into thinking we like this guy even though all we know about him is that he is a piece of human garbage, or to make sense out of him being almost allowed into Heaven. Either way I’m not buying it. But Barkin is kind of throwing herself into this dumb role and remains dedicated to carrying herself like a man the whole time, and that does make the character slightly likable.

I did not generally find this to be funny or dramatically compelling, but often the themes and morals of comedies like this can be interesting to analyze decades later. That is true in this case, and not in the ways I was expecting.

Its portrayal of gay characters is very different from MANNEQUIN: ON THE MOVE, but similar in that it seems iffy now but positive by the standards of 1991. On one hand, its two gay characters are the aggressive lesbian and a buffoonish new age psychic guy played by Jim J. Bullock. And Amanda calls the latter a slur on two separate occasions. On the other hand, Margo calls him “a macho homophobic,” and I believe the movie agrees with this criticism.

Ignorant attitudes are also displayed by assholes in the movie who are not meant to be “smart, funny and charming.” Some jerks at a bar question Amanda’s gender because of a short haircut. They don’t know that there actually is an ambiguity here, they’re just dumb assholes who happen to choose that as their bullying method.

I don’t think it’s properly set up, but it’s interesting that the movie deals with the idea of consent. After a night out drinking, Amanda and Walter fall asleep in the same bed, and in the morning she sees that he has no underwear on. He says they “made love,” and Amanda calls him a rapist, says she was unconscious, it was date rape.

This is obviously supposed to mean that Steve has grown from his experiences as Amanda and learned a lesson – so are we to assume he was out there raping all the time, before he knew better? You can still get into Heaven that way? Hmm. Also troubling – after the movie had the balls to bring up this issue, there is no further discussion or consequences for Walter. In fact…

okay, SPOILER WARNING FOR THE CRAZY TURN OF EVENTS AT THE END OF THE MOVIE SWITCH (1991)

…Amanda becomes pregnant from it, and wants to keep the baby, but is warned by doctors that he may not survive giving birth, so he asks Walter to raise his daughter. He even agrees to Walter’s demand to marry him (though snorting with homophobic amusement during the ceremony).

And yes, Amanda dies giving birth, and if you haven’t figured it out yet the daughter is the “one female who truly likes Steve Brooks,” so that’s how he gets into Heaven.

Now here’s the part that surprised me most. At the very end God asks Steve/Amanda to decide whether to become a male or female angel… and he/she/they can’t decide! So the movie ends with the male/female God allowing Steve/Amanda “all the time in the world” to decide on a gender going forward.

Wow! I really thought that a 1991 comedy about a man in a woman’s body would seem extra offensive in this time when many of us are expanding our understanding of what gender can mean to different people. So I did not expect it to be a movie where a sexist jerk learns to embrace being both male and female… with the full endorsement of the literal God! If this came out today the ending would set off loud wokeness sirens in the homes of all those columnists and pundits who bravely patrol the college campuses policing the p.c. police.

In other news obviously I gotta point out that Jimmy Smits is gonna raise the daughter, and that’s why he was cast as Princess Leia’s adoptive father Bail Organa in the STAR WARS prequels. It is widely known that George Lucas is a huge SWITCH fan.

In most ways this one seems older than the other ’91 movies I’ve been watching. It doesn’t seem very ‘90s that it opens and closes with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now,” for example. (It’s a version by Paul Young/Clannad, not the one I know by my mom’s favorite singer Judy Collins. Her version was used in HEREDITARY, as a reference to SWITCH, because HEREDITARY is also a huge SWITCH fan.) But I guess there’s a Jody Watley song, and like another movie I’m about to review it has a montage set to Bruce Hornsby. The score is credited to Henry Mancini, but apparently they replaced his music (it was eventually released on CD for the true SWITCH-heads).

SWITCH debuted at #2, below FX2. But it was poorly reviewed and only made a little more than its budget. Nevertheless, Barkin was nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy. (She lost to Bette Midler in FOR THE BOYS.)

Edwards’ only subsequent movies were SON OF THE PINK PANTHER (1993) and a 1995 TV movie remake of VICTOR/VICTORIA (more gender switching).

If my unsupported claims of SWITCH fandom don’t convince you it has a legacy, how about this: This is the movie debut of Victoria Mahoney, playing Felicia, one of the three murderous exes. She quickly followed it up with WILD ORCHID II: TWO SHADES OF BLUE, and she was later in WILD OBSESSION and THE FIRST 9 1/2 WEEKS. But while working as an actor she wanted to be a filmmaker, and in 2011, after a bunch of screenwriting fellowships and time at the Sundance Institute, she wrote and directed YELLING TO THE SKY starring Zoe Kravitz, Sonequa Martin-Green, Jason Clarke, Tim Blake Nelson and Gabourey Sidibe. She has since directed episodes of shows including Queen Sugar, Claws and Lovecraft Country, and was chosen by J.J. Abrams to shoot second unit on THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (they made a big deal about her being the first woman to direct anything Star Wars related). She’s now attached to direct a movie based on the graphic novel KILL THEM ALL. If it’s good, then SWITCH prevails.

 


Cultural references: “Hell, if I’m gay, Clint Eastwood is a transvestite!” “You tip toe louder than Gregory Hines tapdances.”

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 20th, 2021 at 11:27 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

35 Responses to “Switch”

  1. Yup, really don’t have much to say about that one. It’s been ages since I saw it and never liked it. There are a few in Edwards’ filmography that I still haven’t seen yet, but I would say that this might be his worst. Or at least his worst, that isn’t a clip show, made to cash in on the real world death of an actor.

  2. I don’t really know why, but 15-year-old me really liked this movie, even though I’m sure a lot of the “pointed” commentary went over my head at that point. Haven’t revisited it in a long time, but definitely remember Ellen Barkin really selling being an exaggerated version of a man.

  3. If he 3 women invited him round for sex surely it would have been a foursome?

  4. One of the things I remember about this movie when it came out is the fact that Ellen Barkin’s name was above the title and Jimmy Smitts’ was below. But this wasn’t just in print.

    When they said the name of the movie in ads they would say “Ellen Barkin, Switch, Jimmy Smitts”. Which made it sound like the name of the movie was Switch: Jimmy Smitts.

  5. Franchise Fred

    May 20th, 2021 at 4:56 pm

    I saw this after the sneak preview of City Slickers. They always let you stay for the second movie. They were actually showing Stone Cold at midnight but I could not convince my parents to stay for 3 so I didn’t see that til later.

    Switch was certainly a comedown from City Slickers but I did enjoy the pratfalls in heels and the twist with the baby. It does seem rather progressive in retrospect. Glad Vern decided to do it.

  6. This doesn’t sound like the kind of movie where gunplay is such a major plot point that there needs to be a giant revolver on the poster.

  7. On a sidenote: It’s pretty interesting what a long career Blake Edwards had. Nobody would look at SWITCH and think “This is from the same director of OPERATION PETTICOAT, THE GREAT RACE and THE PINK PANTHER”, unless you knew about that. How many other directors are there, who worked from “The protagonists must be well lit and always look neat and tidy” through “You can now cover your protagonists in mud, location shoots with handheld camera are totally okay, also you can now drop F-bombs, show tits and shoot someone’s head off in a close up”, until post-Batmania!

  8. Kaplan – Somehow that didn’t even register to me. What the hell is the gun on there for? I really have no idea.

  9. Posters like that one always remind me of “Sack Lunch” from Seinfeld.

  10. Also, this should have been the name of a spin-off movie about Martin Lawrence’s character from HOUSE PARTY, who yells “SWIIIIITCH” while DJing a party with awesome Martin inflection, which you may recall if you are good at recalling the good parts from movies. I wrote a long post and deleted it about how into that part of HP I am, but it was very, very off topic. Suffice it to say, I heard Martin Lawrence happily shouting “SWIIIIIIIITTTCHHH!” all drawn-out every single time the word was written in this review (which was hilariously a LOT).

    The excellence of Martin was also invoked when seeing this Edwardsian title in many assortments of videotapes through the years, also when people have spoken of the Nintendo system of the same name and in regards to the Will Smith vehicle HITCH.

    Sorry to be off topic yet again, everyone, though perhaps HOUSE PARTY is ultimately like BLOODSPORT or KNIGHTRIDERS; always on-topic for outlawvern.com.

  11. As a big Blake Edwards fan this was a huge disappointment as little of the humor worked and it didn’t have any of his usual energy. If you’re an Edwards aficionado you know this is a trademark even if it takes different forms especially the middle Pink Panthers and S.O.B.

    There is one great late period Edwards, Vern. It’s Skin Deep, probably my most rewatched Edwards flick, even more than The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

  12. I watched SON OF THE PINK PANTHER about a year ago. I had somewhat fond memories of seeing bits of it with my grandfather as a kid, but it was just kind of weird, and surprisingly light on gags for a revival of a famous slapstick series starring a broad physical comedian. Felt more like a pilot for a TV series than a film.

  13. Franchise Fred

    May 21st, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    Don’t the jilted lovers shoot him? Or am I misremembering that because the poster incepted me?

  14. You’re right Fred, but you still gotta give an audacity award to whoever thought that justified putting it on the poster.

  15. My favorite Blakies are Skin Deep, The Party, Revenge of the Pink Panther, 10 and S.O.B. You can’t go wrong with any of those.

  16. Dustin wayne Hiser

    May 22nd, 2021 at 8:55 am

    I’ve always been partial to SHOT IN THE DARK myself.

    Also loved EXPERIMENT IN TERROR. It’s a straight thriller with gorgeous black and white photography. I’m due for a rewatch of that one.

  17. You guys! I just went to an honest to God movie theater and saw a movie! I cut it really close and entered the theater after the previews started so I didn’t have time to sit and stress out about being out in public again. I was a little nervous about finding my seat with the theater already being dark but there were only a few other people in there so it was no problem.

    Oh, and the movie was WRATH OF MAN and I liked it.

  18. Congratulations! I’m not fully vaxxed until June 2nd, but hoping to get at least one in before FAST 9 to get the nerves out of the way. Did you go to one of the downtown theaters?

  19. No, I’m down in Kent staying with my niece because of plumbing issues being fixed at my place.

  20. Oh, cool. I don’t even know if all the theaters are open or not, I haven’t tortured myself by checking.

  21. I’m opening the BOOK OF SAW this afternoon. My first cinema trip since BIRDS OF PREY (which I saw one day after SONIC THE HEDGEHOG; different world).

  22. As much as I would love to go to the movies again, I have no idea when I get my shots and even then I will probably wait one more year (and still wear a mask) before I go outside. It’s a huge shitshow here, because after handling it extremely well for something like 3 months, our politicians became way more interested in finding way to prematurely open everything again instead of keeping everybody safe. Which is too bad, because I really wanna see FAST 9!

  23. I’m getting my second shot tomorrow, so I should be fully vaccinated just in time to see a Monday morning showing of F9 with maybe two other people in the theater. That is literally the only thing of interest to me in the entire outside world so I’m looking forward to getting it out of the way so I can then fully commit myself to hermitdom. I finished two novels during quarantine. I think I’ve finally reached my final form.

  24. I’ve been vaccinated for a few weeks now, but now I’m having buyer’s remorse. I wish I could be wildly infected and just bounce from theatre to theatre showing superhero stuff, coughing and sneezing everywhere..

  25. CrustaceanLove

    May 23rd, 2021 at 5:24 pm

    He assumes – and they imply – that it’s a threesome

    So, is one of them sitting it out?

  26. I’ve been to a private screening room and AMC. AMC was not doing temperature checks although one of the studios did do their own. I’m gonna keep my mask on and it still doesn’t feel comfortable yet, and I have an advantage of more private studio press screenings Vs regular folks free for alls.

  27. Sorry Crustacean, I am terrible at math.

  28. I feel weird being the person who is more optimistic about this, but it really seems like people did not manage to spread Covid in movie theaters back when there was no vaccine. For example, here is an article with extensive study of reporting from around the world, including in countries where they never closed the theaters:

    https://celluloidjunkie.com/2020/10/19/cj-analysis-the-number-of-covid-19-outbreaks-traced-to-cinemas-is-zero/

    If there really were no outbreaks from movie theaters before the vaccine, surely it’s safe after you’re vaccinated? I’m not saying I won’t be nervous the first time. But I believe it will be safe.

  29. I’ve been vaccinated and coming up on my last few days of second shot, and after that I’m doing what I want to do. I don’t really get people deciding to stay at home after that…the point of vaccination is to do shit again. This pandemic has been nuts, they did some studies and liberals think it’s WAY deadlier than it is, while conservatives think it’s way lesser than it is. People just can’t get a grip.

    As for the movie theatres not spreading Covid that’s interesting, I’ll have to check that out…but did anyone see the studies that showed keeping the beaches open was the same? So for all the flack the Florida asshole got (and he deserved it for a lot of other reasons), it seemed like that call was correct. But libs acted like if people weren’t hiding in their house and taping the doors shut they were gonna die. People simply cannot process anything anymore.

  30. So just did a quick glance at Cinemajunkie’s report…okay I thought they were presenting a real report…I frankly don’t care that the esteemed and knowledgeable Cinemajunkies website has to say about this matter. What the hell do they know? Also most countries that kept the cinemas open also did a LOT of other things to keep Covid in check. It’s not like here…he mentions South Korea which was a MODEL for taking Covid seriously. Look at the case of Patient 31…they were so on their game that they were able to trace an outbreak back to the woman who started it…think we could do that here with out tumpbs up our asses? Nope. So sure, I see other countries having cinemas open and it working. But in general, everywhere, in all cases? I have to doubt it.

  31. Went to the theater yesterday for the first time since January 2020 to see ARMY OF THE DEAD. Masked up, only 2 other people in the theater besides my moms and me, masks off to eat that blessed popcorn and then kept ’em off because those dudes were 30 feet away from us.

    Looking forward to reading Vern’s thoughts on ARMY.

    And on the topic, MST3K made a slew of riffs about the SWITCH – JIMMY SMITS ad way back in the day. But I never saw this because at that time, if it wasn’t action or horror, then I didn’t want to know about it. I guess I didn’t miss much.

    While we’re talking about Blake Edwards, let’s not forget that despite the ups and downs in his career, he was also married to Julie Andrews until the day he died. If he was good enough for Jules, then he’s gotta be ok in my book. As long as you forget entirely those post-Sellers PANTHER movies. Jeezus H Christ on a New Jersey moped, they are terrible beyond belief.

  32. I’ve been to the Regal Meridian for the free Fast Fridays the last few weeks (2 vaxxed 2 furious), and felt nervous at first, but good enough about distancing and the experience to stick around and do Nobody, Wrath of Man and Spiral double features afterward*. They’re selling with two empty seats in between each booking, but you generally get, like, a whole row. None of the new “full menu” items they’d added just before pandemic, and no booze yet – popcorn, soda, nachos, ice cream is about it. Every second sink in the restrooms has “please don’t use me” notes on.

    I know the Ark Lodge is open again, the Beacon has been running for months (largely as private rentals), AMC at Pacific Place has barely closed, the Grand Illusion and NWFF are still online-only, and Central Cinema is reopening in July.

  33. Thank you for that report, Kit. Pacific Place and Meridian are/were generally my spots (not including Cinerama) so I’ll be returning to them next month, I hope.

  34. As Edwards’ widow Julie Andrews is now one of the owners of the Pink Panther character and (shudder) IP; she is one of the producers on some kind of full-length, live action/animation expansion of the opening title sequences they’re trying to make.

  35. forgot my *:

    * listed in both chronological order, and in descending quality

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