SXSW ‘Switch Up’ Review – Opposites Attract in Lackluster Comedy

Fish out of water comedies are fun because it’s inherently interesting, and often quite funny, to watch people try to adjust to a life they’ve never known. In some cases, it’s the chance for someone to experience unprecedented luxury and comfort without ever having been able to fathom that kind of lifestyle, but the humor is typically stronger when a person used to never having to make tough decisions is faced with a stark new reality where they’re no longer in control of their fate. Switch Up, from director Tara Pirnia, features the latter, though most of its events are overdrawn enough that it’s a film best enjoyed if it’s taken solely as a farce.

Cristián de la Fuente is Ricardo De La Cruz, a successful talk show host whose ego could use a serious and blistering takedown. After making the worst possible impression during a segment on a homeless shelter when he assumes that its director, Cassandra (Julieth Restrepo), wants an autograph rather than to get him to actually stop and focus on the place he’s spotlighting, he finds his circumstances have entirely charged. Accused of corruption and out of a job, he ends up having to walk through the doors of that very same shelter, forced to confront the choices he’s made and whether he’s actually anything resembling a good person.

Stars Cristián de la Fuente and Julieth Restrepo do have chemistry

The best reason to watch Switch Up is the slow-building, enemies-to-lovers chemistry between de la Fuente and Restrepo. Cassandra exudes such a burning dislike for Ricardo the moment she first meets him, seeing how absorbed in his own image he is, and it takes a long time for her to realize that he, too, is a human being worthy of compassion and deserving of forgiveness. It doesn’t hurt that he adds some depth to his persona by being vulnerable with Cassandra and opening up about how his complicated past definitely truly doesn’t reflect the public figure he projects to the world.

The other part of this film that takes up nearly as much time is an over-the-top covert operation, one that finds government investigators looking into Ricardo’s finances and history and completely missing the boat on the real culprits. It’s not hard to believe that Ricardo has been framed by another anchor looking to steal the limelight, and the only reason he’s able to get away with it at the start is because he takes Ricardo’s much more observant producer hostage. That framing storyline drags the film down due to its broadness and silliness, adding soapiness to a film that would likely have functioned well enough without that added frenzy. 

American audiences may not be overly familiar with this film’s Chilean and Colombian leads aside from their appearances in Dancing with the Stars and Griselda, respectively. De la Fuente exudes a natural charm, one that he has to work to suppress as Ricardo reacts to the necessity of his new surroundings and learns the meaning of being humble. Fortunately, he has American actor and Lost alum Jeff Fahey by his side as his new guide to being homeless and how to adjust. Restrepo is fierce and angry, and watching her gradually realize that she’s actually attracted to the man she can’t stand is a fun and worthwhile endeavor. 

In the supporting cast, Alica Witt seems just as annoyed as Restrepo in her role as Agent Larson, who is equally irritated by the incompetence of her subordinates as she is by the suspected criminal in her midst whose innocence she isn’t willing to consider. One of the film’s funnier scenes finds her arriving with her colleagues to a home where they’re mistaken for strippers, a misconception that Larson, unlike audiences, doesn’t find at all amusing. This is, after all, a movie about how, metaphorically, books don’t always match their covers. 

The comedy feels too broad, and there’s nothing underneath it

Switch Up, which held its world premiere at SXSW, is an interesting specimen because it feels in many ways like a big-budget Hollywood romantic comedy in that its plot is thinly written, and there really isn’t much depth to its construction. De la Fuente and Restrepo add something to make it more involving and give it some personality, but it’s also two films existing at once that aren’t at all the same and don’t work terribly well in concert with each other. It feels as if something is missing that, if present, might have made this experience just compelling enough to appreciate, while instead, the finished product falls flat, devoid of sincere and enduring substance.

There is undoubtedly an audience that will enjoy Switch Up, which is a light and moderately enjoyable film that approaches thoughtfulness in how it looks at the notions of celebrity and poverty and how little people in those two camps can actually relate – or even ever really try – to the other’s experience. Those ideas are left on the surface, however, and there’s nothing to dig deeper and try to extract meaning aside from the eventual meeting of perspectives from its two protagonists, who do make a momentous journey given that they couldn’t be starting from more separate places. 

Switch Up is now playing at SXSW.

Are you interested in watching Switch Up? Do you feel yourself suddenly wanting to watch Cristián de la Fuente on In Plain Sight again? Let us know by connecting with us on X @MoviesWeTexted.

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