Jennifer Garner has done a bloody revenge Christmas movie (“Peppermint”) and a slew of holiday-themed Capital One commercials (“What’s in your wallet?”), but thankfully, Garner has now returned to what she does best: the very niche, very cute, and very comforting genre of body swap comedies.
The actress channels her iconic “13 Going on 30” charm for the sweet Netflix holiday movie “Family Switch” which, despite its forgettable title, actually serves as a sweet addition to the Netflix queue. Early 2000s blockbuster staple McG (“Charlie’s Angels”) directs the feature, which follows breadwinner career woman Jess Walker (Garner) and her high school music teacher husband Bill (Ed Helms) as they grapple with a particularly disappointing era in their mid-life (emphasis on the mid). Nothing works, from their three kids (who mostly seem to ignore them) to their sex life (which isn’t what it’s used to be). All of this backstory is inferred through a series of well-timed comedy bits from a strong supporting cast, including Xosha Roquemore, Ilia Isorelýs Paulino, Paul Scheer, Fortune Feimster, and more.
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The Walkers’ teen kids CC (Emma Myers) and Wyatt (Brady Noon) are both dealing with their own plights: While 17-year-old CC is popular in school, her grades are slipping and she is nervous about acing the tryouts for the U.S. National soccer team. Meanwhile, 13-year-old math genius Wyatt is bullied to the point of needing to do a “Mission: Impossible” style parkour routine to avoid bullies in the hallways.
Right before Christmas, the Walker family head to Los Angeles’ famed Griffith Observatory to see a once-in-a-lifetime planet phenomenon. There, they meet an astrological reader (Rita Moreno) who causes them all to wake up to a full family body swap, hence the film’s title. CC trades places with Garner’s Jess, while Helms’ Bill is now in the body of Wyatt.
Of course (of course!), the timing couldn’t be worse for any of the Walker clan. Jess has to land a big new client at her architecture firm, the U.S. National scout is there for CC’s championship game, Wyatt has a college interview with the Yale admissions team (he’s smart enough to essentially skip high school), and Bill…well, Helms’ affable Bill wants to try out with his band for a spot in a reality competition series. (It’s a little like a “17 Again” subplot for Bill, but alas, it works with Helms in the role.) Oh, and the Walkers’ toddler switches bodies with their French bulldog. It sounds weird, but honestly, it works onscreen and makes for some solid jokes and great sight gags.
Sure, Bill’s stakes are significantly less important than the rest of his family (again, a baby and a dog), but it’s a testament to newcomer Noon’s sheer charisma and Helms — who here reins in his at times grating comedy style — perfectly balancing one another to make their own problems seem important enough to empathize with. (Also, Bill’s storyline gives us a Rivers Cuomo cameo and we can all use a little more Weezer in our lives.)
The best part of the “Freaky Friday”-esque “Family Switch” is that the shared responsibilities of the film’s four core stars are well-matched. Myers and Noon shine as the two teens-turned-adults overnight, while Garner clearly leads the film in a role that is unmatched since her iconic “13 Going on 30” turn. A high school party dance scene, plus a candy cane choreographed sequence that opens the film, seem like homages to her “Thriller” days alongside Mark Ruffalo in the two decades old rom-com classic.
There are some odd moments, like a forced kiss between CC and Wyatt (siblings!) while the kiddos are stuck in the bodies of their parents, and also Bill and Jess (while in the bodies of their kids) having off-the-charts chemistry on the dance floor. But it’s done tastefully (well, as tastefully as a family comedy joke about incest can be), again showcasing the specific, balanced tone of the film that makes “Family Switch” a tad sharper than it needs to be.
“Family Switch” is based on Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “Bedtime for Mommy,” which was adapted for the screen by Victoria Strouse and Adam Sztykiel. McG brings his signature direction to the film that makes it an easy watch and, of course, everything is solved for the Walkers by Christmas morning. And while Garner’s very specific lovable body swap talent is a weird one-note to play, the actress just does it too well. Why not keep the tune going? Sequel, anyone?
“The Family Switch” starts streaming on Netflix on Thursday, November 30.
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