Bright Wall/Dark Room.
1 year ago
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Body Swap Week: All Of Me (1984)

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Today on THE CHARACTERS STUDIO: Michelle Said sits down with Roger, Edwina and Terry nearly 30 years after the release of All of Me.

MS: What was it like being in Roger’s body for the majority of the film, Edwina?

Edwina: Oh, goodness. Quite odd. I definitely had never imagined what it would feel like to have a, you know. You know. A you know! I had never even imagined it. It was certainly a different experience. I will say that.

Roger: Edwina was a bit of a yanker. She had no finesse.

Edwina: How can you say that?!

Roger: It’s true.

Edwina: Well, I had no experience. You know that.

Roger: Also true.

Edwina: But just in addition to you know, like I said in the film, he was much healthier than I ever was in my former body. That was the first time I knew what it was like to run and jump and gasp without fear. Now, of course, I am in my new body and life is fantastic. I play tennis all the time. Terry had quite the natural backhand. Roger and I play all the time now.

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MS: So — the sex thing. I assume that’s all sorted out now. Because in your past life, you were a virgin. 

Edwina: Yes.

Do you regret not being able to have sex in your former body? 

Edwina: Oh, goodness. It’s been so long. I don’t regret it, no. 

Terry: Neigh.

Edwina: Terry’s body has been more than capable. 

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MS: Speaking of—Terry, are you still quite comfortable in your life as a horse?

Terry: [Bucks up on hind legs, motions around a bit, convulses from side-to-side.]

Edwina: Terry has a wonderful life. Her father passed on about twenty years ago but we make sure she gets ridden every so often. We never anticipated that with her new body she would still retain the lifespan of a human being. Quite remarkable.

Roger: Sometimes I wish I could put her down…

Terry: Neigh!

Roger: …gently in a bed of hay! 

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1 year ago
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Body Swap Week: Lost Highway (1997)

WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR NAME?

by Elizabeth Cantwell

If you have ever watched a David Lynch movie, you know the category of “plot summary” usually gets an “N/A” response on those mental checklist forms you fill out once the credits stop rolling. Lost Highway is no exception to Lynch’s disregard for linear and/or comprehensible story lines; in fact, I’d venture to say it’s one of the least comprehensible Lynch films I’ve seen. After drawing out a Beautiful Mind-ish and very incomplete plot map (see below) and reading a lot about the film on the ever-so-trustworthy Internet, I think I finally have a grasp on its mechanics. But only the most slippery of grasps. Because it’s such a strange viewing experience, the idea of “spoilers” doesn’t really totally apply here, but if you think you might not want to know anything about the apparent plot, maybe don’t keep reading. 

Basically (by which I mean not basically at all), the film follows Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), a tenor saxophone player who lives in a lovely and creepy-as-shit house in the Los Feliz hills and has a really creepy-as-shit marriage with Renee (Patricia Arquette). During one of the (many!) unsettling sex scenes in the film, I actually said out loud, “If this were how I experienced sex, I would never want to have sex.”1

In any case, Fred and Renee live a quiet life in this creepy house and they have lots of unfulfilling and kind of upsetting sex and one day they start finding videotapes on their front doorstep. The first videotape is just some really grainy footage of the front of their own house that closes in on their front door in a terrifying way and then drops off into static. “It’s probably from the real estate agent,” Renee says. Yeah, okay, Renee. I’m sure that’s what it is. IF YOUR REAL ESTATE AGENT IS A SECRET DEMON.2

From there things only get worse. One of the tapes ends in a traumatic and horrifying crime—and Fred himself is in the middle of it. Did he commit this crime? He doesn’t remember. What happened? That’s sort of the question we’re trying to answer for the rest of the film, as Fred gets sentenced to death row; suffers a killer headache; and seemingly morphs into Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), a car mechanic who becomes romantically involved with an oversexed woman named Alice (Patricia Arquette again).3

Alice’s fingernails change color in almost every scene.

You know how sometimes you are sitting there—maybe watching TV, maybe snacking on something bland, maybe staring numbly at your own hands—and you say to yourself, “I really wish I were someone else right now”?

Well, I guess the basic premise of Lost Highway is: what if you were able to ask yourself this and really make it happen? What if you had gotten yourself into a situation that was so messed up that you went into a fugue state—that you were able to conjure up a whole new body for yourself, a whole new life? But the bad thing about this scenario is that because you had gotten yourself into a situation that was so messed up, because you were essentially going insane, this new life—this new body—wasn’t serving you any better than the last one. This new body was actually running into all the same problems.

We like body swap movies because they allow us to dream about escaping from the boundaries our very constraining flesh imposes on us. When we’re kids we like to dream about becoming an adult for a day (but still keeping our fun kid minds). When we’re teenagers we like to dream about becoming someone more popular, more attractive, less awkward. When we’re adults? It gets weirder, maybe. We like to dream about becoming someone who made the choices we didn’t make. Someone who opted for a different (more fulfilling?) job, a newer car, a healthier diet, a prettier wife. Someone who lived more dangerously, who nearly wrecked the newer car, who supplemented the healthier diet with risky substance ingestion, who fucked the prettier wife in front of a video camera.

Lost Highway is definitely born of these more disturbing wish-fulfillment fantasies. The psychological landscape it captures is worthy of a horror movie (in fact, Lost Highway has often found a place in those ubiquitous “Scariest Movies Of All Time” lists). The scariest thing about it is not the conceit, not the I-had-a-psychological-break-so-I-invented-another-body-in-my-mind-to-inhabit—it’s the realization that there are huge holes in this mental body swap. And the holes are represented by really creepy, unnerving events that should never happen in real life, which show us that in fact this is not happening in real life, that this is all unfolding inside Fred’s brain, which in turn is too weak and disturbed and distracted to keep its fantasy pure. The fantasy is corrupted in a really horrifying way.

One of the most upsetting scenes occurs near the beginning of the film. Renee has dragged Fred to a scene party in some mansion near the Observatory. Fred is hating it, Renee is drunk. There are a bunch of people milling around who look exactly like the kind of people you’d never have any interest in knowing. Downing shots at the bar, Fred turns to see a person we will know only as the Mystery Man—a white-faced, eyebrowless, androgynous being dressed all in black.4 The Mystery Man approaches Fred: “We’ve met before, haven’t we?”

In this context, the stale pick-up line turns into a nightmarish scenario.

Lost Highway is full of dark wells like this—moments when the realism of a scene shivers and ruptures and lets in something completely un-realist but also chillingly recognizable. Recognizable because, if you want to know the truth, the fabric of our livesis full of little ruptures. Usually they are subtle enough that we can feel okay about overlooking them or laughing them off. Sometimes they are not. Once Chris and I were at Disneyland and, as we were walking to our car in the giant parking structure, I saw another couple walking the other direction. They were wearing the same color shirts as we were, roughly the same styles of jeans, had our same hair colors and styles, and looked to be about our height/weight. Jokingly, I turned to Chris and said, “Look, it’s us!” The couple continued to walk away and we never saw their faces. Chris laughed and then later said something like “That was weird, those two people really did look like us,” and I agreed, and the whole thing just made me feel a little bit nauseous and very glad they hadn’t actually turned around.6

There are things that happen to us that we can’t explain, things that bubble up from some other reality or some other dimension and erupt out of our nice, well-manicured lawns, bursting through our safely locked doors. David Lynch knows this and Lost Highway shows this and nothing is resolved in a neat or acceptable manner. 

Fred says at one point in the film that he hates video cameras. “I like to remember things my own way,” he explains. This sounds nice for a second—but what is the cost of remembering things your own way? How much of a leap is it from having a memory that romanticizes that night on the beach to having a memory that completely represses not just an event but an entire side of your own personality? You can out-drive a hundred policemen but you can never outrun your own mind.

Lost Highway plays on our secret fears that we, too, have repressed memories—that we, too, have perhaps done things in our pasts that our brains have whitewashed for the sake of our own sanity. This is how interrogations and false confessions work—after being battered with the question “But did you do it?” for a certain number of hours, even the sanest human being begins to doubt her own mental reliability, her own version of events. 

How many people is “I”? How many times have we met the Mystery Man before and not remembered? How many miles have we driven to try to escape our realities?

How many bodies have we inhabited?

Elizabeth Cantwell recommends Lost Highway only to those who have stashes of anti-anxiety pills in their medicine cabinets. She tumbls here.


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1 The little MPAA explanations at the beginning for the film’s R-rating include the category of “bizarre violent and sexual content,” which seems like a description tailor-made just for Lost Highway. 

2 “Just walk away, Renee,” for real.

3 Arquette is the victim here of Lynch’s well-documented doppelgänger obsession. She does her best with the two characters, and I actually really buy her performance as Alice, but I don’t really know why on earth Fred would EVER have married her super untrustworthy and super suspicious Renee.

4 Robert Blake plays the Mystery Man and is basically as terrifying as possible, and the later context of Robert Blake’s actual life—the whole “Oh, he probably shot his wife after dinner that one time”—only makes this role that much more disturbing. Especially since Lynch has talked about the O.J. Simpson murder case as a subconscious inspiration for Lost Highway, and there are unsettling parallels between Robert Blake’s alleged crime and O.J.’s alleged crime (down to the criminal acquittal and the civil conviction), and anyway, the whole thing is weird and makes for bad dreams.

5 (cotton)

6 Most Disneyland experiences feel pretty upsetting and surreal, actually.

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1 year ago
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Body Swap Week: 17 Again (2009)

THE NATURE OF REGRET AND ZAC EFRON’S PECS

by Liz Shannon Miller

Let me tell you this, straight off: Of all the things you might do with your few remaining hours on Earth, watching 17 Again should not be near the top of the list. I mean, it’s fine. There are some very funny people in it (Thomas Lennon) and some people who other people find annoying but I’m happy to tolerate (Mrs. Judd Apatow) and why isn’t Zac Efron a proper movie star yet?

Because he sure should be one — I mean, he carries this movie on his slender, graceful shoulders (more on that in a bit). But his pretty boy charisma isn’t enough to stop you from feeling, much like the film’s protagonist, that you have been wasting valuable time.

We viewers are lucky, though — we’ve only wasted two hours of our life. Mike (Matthew Perry as an adult, Efron for the vast majority of the film) has wasted two decades on regretting the decisions that left him, at the age of 37, a soon-to-be-divorced uneducated failure. He eventually figures out that it’s that same regret which has held him back in life, but in order to come to that realization he has to be swapped back into his 1989-era physique.

Here’s the problem — when confronted with a film that’s unapologetic about the long line of similar premises that have preceded it, the two big questions are:

1) What does the film do to set itself apart from its predecessors?

2) Are those changes enough to justify the film’s existence?

To answer Question 1: Unlike most body-swap movies, there’s only one persona in play, and unlike, say 13 Going on 30, that one persona is clearly defined in both time periods before the swap occurs. This does mean that 17 Again has a unique opportunity to examine the modern male’s journey into maturity — however, that doesn’t really change the fact that 17 Again is just a reverse Big.

Except, of course, Big features a pre-teen on the cusp of puberty, and 17 Again opens with a shirtless Zac Efron, practicing basketball. Sure, Efron was 22 the year this movie came out — but he’s supposed to be 17, an issue that takes center stage once Mrs. Judd Apatow, Mike’s high school sweetheart and soon-to-be ex-wife, scopes out his young hot teen bod. 

In general, the most memorable thing about this movie is its shameless, umcomfortable, naughty statutory rape feelings; finally, women have an opportunity to understand how dudes might have felt while watching American Beauty.

And I’m not even mentioning the part where Mike’s teenage daughter, having no idea the new hottie in her math class is her body-swapped father, pushes him down on a bed and makes growl-y noises. This is a deliberate choice on my part.

The other difference between 17 Again and other films of its genre is a decidedly post-modern take on the film’s basic premise. This is enabled by Thomas Lennon, Mike’s super-nerd best friend, who pretends to be Mike’s father so that Mike can return to high school, because Mike really is one of those guys who peaked as a teenager.

Efron comes to Lennon for help after his transformation; after a lightsaber battle to prove Efron is who he says he is, Lennon’s character pours over books to define the exact nature of the magic which has made Mike into his 17-year-old self, asking Mike to name the “spirit guide” (AKA plot device) which gave him the opportunity to travel back to his 17-year-old self (his 17-year-old self in the present day just go with it guys).

That scene contains my favorite exchange of the whole movie (lovingly copied-and-pasted from IMDB):

Ned: It’s a classic transformation story. Are you now or have you ever been a Norse God, Vampire, or Time Traveling Cyborg?

Mike: I have know you since what, first grade? I think that maybe I would have told you!

Ned: Vampire wouldn’t tell, Cyborg wouldn’t know.

As someone who thinks that sleeping in a landspeeder bed would be the coolest thing of all time, I am admitted biased, but all of the Lennon stuff is probably the freshest material in the movie, especially when it peaks in a dinner date between him and Jan from The Office, who is revealed to be an equally big Lord of the Rings nerd.

Otherwise, the cliches being reused are legion, Michelle Tratchenberg really needs a better agent, and the ending deflates like a sad balloon as Mike realizes that the decision he thought ruined his life — marrying his pregnant high school sweetheart — is actually the best decision he ever made. The realization triggers his transformation back to adulthood, and he and Mrs. Judd Apatow totally make up, and live happily ever after.

That’s the secret twist of this movie: The real genre 17 Again belongs to is the “movies that wouldn’t be movies if the main characters had just gotten a safe, legal abortion because sometimes people aren’t ready to be parents” genre. (C.F. Knocked Up.)

Very aptly, as I started to write this, I had an AV Club article on depictions of abortion in film and TV open in a Chrome tab; scrolling through it was not only a reminder of how abortion rights have been a hard-fought battle over the decades, but also a reminder of how rarely it’s treated as what pro-choice advocates consider it to be: A CHOICE. An option.

Because 17 Again doesn’t even let its characters consider the option; it’s almost like the writers forgot that in 1989, first-term abortion had been legal for 16 years, and just decided to hand-wave around how two 17-year-olds were emotionally and financially capable of bringing a child into the world.

Ultimately, the least-plausible thing about 17 Again isn’t the magical janitor who transforms Matthew Perry into Zac Efron; it’s the idea that teen pregnancy can be a romantic moment for adolescents. If you’re anti-choice, then I bet 17 Again works for you like gangbusters. But those of us in the real world, who think that the best time to become a parent is when you’re ready to become a parent, see 17 Again as what it is — a reminder that regret comes in many different forms.

Liz Shannon Miller is a writer living in Los Angeles. By the “divide by two plus seven” rule, it is not inappropriate for her to find Zac Efron attractive.

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1 year ago
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Body Swap Week: Freaky Friday (1976)

I’D LIKE TO BE YOU FOR A DAY!

by Letitia Trent

During my long summer breaks from elementary and middle school, I would look across our green lawn, in the woods beyond it, at the mountains that crowded the skyline, and wonder if I’d ever get away from here, if I’d ever become an adult who had the power to go where I pleased when I pleased. As I approached my teenage years, I was stuck in an almost constant conflict between feeling isolated and angry and feeling completely in love with my freedom from school and the barrage of humiliations I found there.  

In between long summer hours of sitting on a spread blanket outside on our green lawn, reading novel after novel—from Paula Danziger books to Piers Anthony fantasy fiction to Jane Eyre (my patron saint of isolation and quiet revolt)—I would head inside to watch movies on our VCR. Every book, every movie, was an opportunity to be outside of my life, over which I did not have control, even in the smallest ways. I would read in books about kids walking around a neighborhood and sigh at the thought of living in suburbia, which I imagined as a long line of brightly painted houses connected by sidewalks where people walked their dogs, sometimes nodding or saying hello as they passed the myriad mailboxes. In neighborhoods, people put out their trash instead of burning it in a pit when it overflowed. In neighborhoods, girls had sleepovers and kids rode their bikes on the streets. I was not allowed to walk up our long driveway to get the mail; I was too far out of my mother’s sight when I did so, farther than her paranoia and anxiety would allow me to go.

My mother—a lover of cartoons, family movies, and any entertainment without any sex, violence, drugs, or misbehavior—always had a pile of Disney VHS tapes on hand, rented from our local video store each weekend, and one of my favorites was Freaky Friday. Although my taste ran darker than hers, even early on (I made my family rent Taxi Driver after seeing it on a list of the best films in history when I was thirteen, and nobody in my family was ready for that experience, though I give them credit for actually finishing the movie), something about Freaky Friday spoke to me. I generally found Disney movies corny and pointless, but I related to the tomboyish and sharp-tongued Jodie Foster as Annabelle, the anxious, messy, ice-cream-for-breakfast eating daughter of an elegant, beautiful, and sexily-chain-smoking mother, Mrs. Andrews (she wasn’t given a first name), played by Barbara Harris.

In her youth, my own mother had been elegant, beautiful, and chain-smoking. I had the feeling of being a baggy, undefined thing next to adult women and the image of my mother that I had in old photographs. Like Annabelle, I both rejected my mother’s fussy attention to my appearance (I had to sleep in curlers and was subjected to many failed home perms until I demanded a haircut and bangs) and desperately wanted to find some way to inhabit my own body and have my own sense of self separate from her.

I have a love-hate thing with mother-daughter movies, and Freaky Friday encourages ambivalent feelings about moms. Annabelle starts out idolizing her father (the oblivious and rubber-faced John Astin) and grumpily rejecting her mother’s attempts to make her eat a decent breakfast and put on some prettier clothes. Barbara Harris as Mrs. Andrews is gorgeous and perfectly put-together in an array of outfits I remember vividly: a pink dress; a long, black cocktail gown with a slit up the thigh; and a fabulous red-velvet pantsuit with cork heeled-clogs, an outfit that would look bonkers now but totally makes sense in the candy-colored 70’s.

Annabelle’s problems with her mother are classic: she is too bossy, she criticizes Annabelle for being too messy, too forgetful, for not taking care of her appearance, etc. She doesn’t see her daughter as a separate individual with her own desires, and the daughter does not see her mother as a fully human, separate being—but rather as a naggy superego, forever finding fault. Their respective roles suffocate their ability to see each other’s humanity. The body-swap is a radical empathy exercise so that the mother and daughter can learn to appreciate each other again. The movie depends on the premise that underneath, both mother and daughter truly love each other. All they need is a reminder.

[Oh, to have such minor mother-daughter feuds! I loved this movie as a kid not because it related to my own problems with my mother, but because it showed me a world in which it was possible to have such small, surface problems. Not that these problems are not important and central for young women, but they seemed so giddily surmountable. If I were changing places with my mother, I’d be spending my days feeding dogs and cats, avoiding the neighbors, and sitting in a dank trailer, watching PBS cooking shows, action movies, and paranormal reality TV, waiting for the mail to come. It’s not her daily struggles that I need to understand (I lived with them for seventeen years; I know them intimately), but the contents of her head, the swirl of her anxiety, the sources of her paranoia and fear that wouldn’t let her trust even the members of her family. Disney does not make movies about how to understand and love your mentally ill parents.]

When Annabelle and her mother change places—in a totally inexplicable scene in which they both happen to say the same thing at the same time—Jodie Foster, now inhabited by her mother, turns to her friend at an ice-cream shop and says, in perfect imitation of a middle-aged woman speaking to a teenager: Dear, could I borrow a dime to make a phone call? As Mrs. Andrews in Annabelle’s body struggles to understand the vagaries of high school, Annabelle in Mrs. Andrews’ body is delighted. I’m gorgeous, she says, twirling around a mirror, admiring herself and listening to pop music. She has a plan; she’s going to eat chips, sit on the couch and watch TV, and possibly tempt the adenoidal neighbor-boy who she’s been pining after with her mother’s adult body. Both are convinced that the other has it easy, but of course, they are wrong.

The movie becomes a slapsticky, typical Disney film by its midpoint. After Annabelle fills up the washing machine with shoes and jacks and Mrs. Andrews spectacularly loses the field hockey game, the film ends with a corny, interminable car chase. It’s not these parts that matter, though; it’s the idea of empathy—of understanding and mutual appreciation—that I most remember. We long to understand and love our mothers, despite their faults, despite our faults, but unfortunately no magic trick can fix the gulf between some of us. I’ve read about beautiful mother-daughter relationships, ones that grew and changed and became something deep and rewarding, but they all started with the same thread, which is demonstrated throughout Freaky Friday: a real love, attachment, and appreciation underneath the surface problems.

What about those of us who had damaged attachment, born to women whose lives were troubled, whose brains and bodies were flooded with fear and anxiety, whose own childhoods were so full of neglect and abuse that they did not know how to connect to this small, vulnerable thing that they were suddenly entrusted with? There’s no movie for us yet, no zany antics in cork heels, and no clear way to embody, with empathy and understanding, the person who is both closest to you and also the most difficult to understand.

Letitia Trent is a writer, podcaster, and psychology student living in Boulder, Colorado. She sort-of-blogs here.

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1 year ago
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Body Swap Week: The Change-Up (2011)

THE DIARRHEA OF BODY SWAP MOVIES.

by Chris Cantoni

Poop. It all comes back to poop. For generations now, poop has been the comedic go-to of choice. What was once a banana peel has now become the errant breaking of wind. In fact, “bathroom humor,” as my mother calls it, has become so overused that it’s not even that funny any more, at least not for adults. Poop comedy is almost exclusively used in children’s films these days. To use it in an R-rated adult comedy would just be lazy and tired. So it’s only fair to tell you this up front: The Change-Up’s very first scene involves Jason Bateman getting a literal faceful of poop. Did you just chuckle at that? Good, you have now realized the full potential of a viewing of The Change-Up.

Where did we go wrong? Jason Bateman is great! Remember Arrested Development? What a delightful television show with Bateman playing the straight man. As for Ryan Reynolds, sure, he has his detractors—but I actually quite like him. He’s tried his best to diversify and you’ve got to respect that. Regardless, he’s a natural comedy man. They both do a commendable job here, too. The director, David Dobkin, directed Wedding Crashers, which is a superb R-rated comedy. The writers, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, wrote The Hangover! So why does this movie have so many problems?

The Change-Up is a body swap comedy. Dave (Jason Bateman) and Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) are best friends, but Dave is a family man while Mitch is a stoner loaf. They envy each other’s lives! They switch places after peeing into a magic fountain! They learn to appreciate each other and themselves! That’s how these things work. Who cares? You already know what happens. You know what else happens? A CGI baby’s bottom squirts poop in Jason Bateman’s mouth. There, I said it. Now we’re all on the same page of mental scarring. The movie fails because nearly every comedic bit it reaches for is the lowest of low-hanging fruit. There’s no mirth or creativity in its humor.

Another example: At one point, Mitch (who is now in Dave’s body—Body Swap!) is trying to handle two infants in his kitchen, one of whom manages to turn on a blender, while the other picks up knives, throwing one at Mitch. It feels like a recent Eddie Murphy comedy mixed with swearing and nudity.

Which reminds me: fake boobs. I don’t mean implants (I don’t think). I mean Leslie Mann and two other women appearing with CGI breasts that end up resembling some bizarre rubber amalgamation. There may be young teenagers out there thinking that they should really rent The Change-Up but don’t be fooled, it’s very uncomfortable! It’s like the uncanny valley of breasts. There’s Leslie Mann and she’s gratuitously topless and you can tell something is definitely wrong. It’s the boobs. Because they are not real boobs. They look like they were purchased at a novelty store.

It’s not all bad. There’s a hilarious bit where Mitch-Dave (Body Swap!) keeps calling Dave’s daughter CARE-uh, when her name is pronounced CAR-uh. Bateman gets to play against type and the results are entertaining at times. It also gives him the lion’s share of the hilarious (debatable) situations. Ryan Reynolds gets to have a couple of his rapid-fire monologues, so he’s not completely wasted. They have good chemistry together.

The central conflict for Dave revolves around Olivia Wilde, Dave’s real-life secretary Sabrina, on whom he has a big crush. So when he and Mitch swap bodies (Body Swap!), he’s free to take her out on dates—as Mitch! And of course Sabrina is every guy’s dream, because she likes being offended (outside of work) and likes going to baseball games or getting spontaneous tattoos. She also thinks life is about having fun (sex?). How progressive! So of course he stops caring that he’s technically married—why not see this girl? It turns out he discovers the answer (because he loves his wife) right before he and Sabrina are about to have sex, but if you hadn’t figured that out by now, you are not familiar with the body-swap genre in general. His revelation does, however, involve a nice callback to his daughter while looking at Sabrina’s butterfly tattoo (but of course she has a butterfly tattoo!).

I suppose extra-marital sex is the central moral, philosophical (meta-physical?!) question of the film. If you find yourself suddenly in control of a married man’s body, can you have sex with his wife? If you’re a married man suddenly in control of a single man’s body, is using that body to have sex considered cheating? Yes, obviously, I mean, don’t be an idiot. But the film lacks that self-awareness, and so all the scenes with Dave (as Mitch … jeez this is confusing. Body Swap!) filming a porno or Mitch (as Dave, etc) trying to have sex with Leslie Mann feel… I don’t know, lecherous? Predatory? They evoke the same feeling I get when I see guys in bars trying to take home drunk girls.

There are touching moments, though. Dave comes to realize how important his family is to him and Mitch realizes that he hasn’t earned any of the success he’s celebrating while being Dave. But that tenderness doesn’t feel earned. It feels tacked on after too many f-bombs or gross remarks, and so the final result feels a bit hollow. How do I feel after watching The Change-Up? Angry, disoriented, and wishing I could have swapped bodies with someone not watching The Change-Up. Where’s a magic fountain when you need one?

Chris Cantoni body swaps in Los Angeles and tumbls here.

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1 year ago
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Body Swap Week: Face/Off (1997)

THAT CRAZY TRAIN CAN TAKE YOUR FACE/OFF

by Sara Gray

When it comes to action films, my opinion aligns with Roger Ebert’s in his review of Shoot ‘Em Up: “I may disapprove of a movie for going too far, and yet have a sneaky regard for a movie that goes much, much farther than merely too far.” Sadly, John Woo’s Face/Off goes “merely too far.” The so-called charms of a happy nuclear family cannot compete with guns, explosions, and slo-mo doves. And yet there are precious moments when the film steps tantalizingly close to “much, much farther than merely too far.” I think you can guess why.

Like all body swap films, Face/Off concerns itself with two opposing worldviews. Our polar opponents are law-abiding, loving father Sean Archer (John Travolta) and nihilistic, pill-popping terrorist Castor Troy (Nicholas Cage). In a scene so cloying that the lens appears to be literally smeared with treacle, we’re introduced to Sean as he rides a carousel with his son. It is here that we first see the creepy gesture that every member of the Archer family uses to communicate affection. Its sentiment: “I love your face so much, I want to tear it off. Gently.” Castor witnesses this heartwarming moment through the lens of a sniper scope. He has a porno ‘stache. No good can come of this.

Six years later, a son-less, vengeful Sean (who happens to be an FBI special agent) uses millions of taxpayer dollars to buy enough Hummers to chase Castor and his brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) in their private jet.  He succeeds in catching Castor, after one of those movie gun battles that so impressed Danny Butterman in Hot Fuzz—many men firing guns whilst jumping through the air. Some of them even go “Aaaaugh.”Unfortunately, Sean knocks Castor into a coma before he can find out how the brothers plan to blow up LA. He remedies this by spending millions more taxpayer dollars on plastic surgery, grafting Castor’s face onto his own, all so he can sneak into the secret prison on Deepwater Horizon and ask Pollux (imprisoned therein) about the bomb. (This is where Woo lost me. There’s just no way that the government would use precious taxpayer dollars on a secret prison where inmates are denied due process and tortured for no real reason!)

Meanwhile, Castor awakens from his coma and forces Sean’s surgeons to crazy-glue Sean’s mug onto his seeping lack of same. Castor proceeds to act smug around Sean’s wife and nubile daughter, while Sean must escape from Guatanamo using the power of Nicholas Cage’s Crazy Gaze alone. (We’re never given any hints as to how he gets back to LA. Did he swim?)

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Body Swap Week: 13 Going on 30 (2004)

I WANT TO BE THIRTY AND FLIRTY AND THRIVING!

by Andrew Root

In a few weeks, I’ll be turning 30 years old. I can say things like “it’s been seventeen years since I last took a piano lesson.” I’m sure this signifies something.

I was recently asked to take a small, non-singing part in a college musical in which I play a WASPy Harvard University admissions officer who is befuddled – utterly befuddled! – by a young lady who dresses all in pink and, in lieu of a personal essay, applies to the prestigious learning institute via a headshot (can you guess?). The director of the play, a sprightly 23-year-old, said that the part needed a more mature element, and since it didn’t involve singing (actually, it involves looking about bewilderedly, wondering why on earth everyone else is singing), I agreed. At the first read-through of the script, I met the rest of the cast; first year sociology majors arrived in their pyjamas cooing eagerly over how coffee is just the best, while their elders—the wizened third and fourth years—ate apples and bananas and talked about which teacher’s college they were going to apply to. I was asked what my major was, what year I was in. Someone I didn’t know gave me a hug when we were introduced. I began to tilt my head to the side as one might if interacting with an adorable baby goat, and say things like “Oh honey, no. I’m old. I don’t have a major.”

I’m starting to feel my age.

Some of these people were 13 years old only five years ago. Where were they then? At 13 years old, I was most likely devouring Smashing Pumpkins’ Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness in the bedroom that my non-identical twin brother had just vacated, ending our lifetime status as roommates. There was a baseball border running around the ceiling and red, yellow, and blue sponge painting on the walls that my mother refused to let me paint over because she had put so much work into it just three years previous. I was a year away from my first kiss with a girl named “Mickey” who I’d never met before and haven’t seen since. I played baseball twice a week in a church league, and I’d discovered that masturbation was amazing. I’d given up piano lessons and I got straight A’s in school. I would be awarded the “citizenship award” at my grade 8 graduation (though I’m still not quite sure what I did to achieve such a title). I was a good kid, by all accounts.

Around the time you turn 13, you find that you can earn friends by either being nice to certain people or being mean to other people. I chose the former, my brother the latter—and I was his target. He was the picture of a cool kid: tall, athletic, confident with a rebellious streak that got him noticed by all the girls in the class. I was shorter, my hair was fluffy and unruly, and I still wore whatever clothes were bought for me, usually from Zellers. Though I was a natural target, I was strangely removed from the politics of being liked. I had a group of similarly picked-on friends, and who needed everyone else? I realize that this is not the case for everyone.

Jenna Rink, the awkwardly earnest protagonist of 13 Going On 30, wants desperately to be part of the popular clique, and aims to get there via a system of stuffing her bra, dressing in neon, and shunning her Talking Heads-loving best friend, Matt. She’s fully embroiled in the politics of adolescence, all with the goal of being liked in mind. At her 13th birthday party, Jenna is tricked by the improbably named “Tom-Tom”, leader of the “Six Chicks Clique”, into waiting blindfolded in the closet for Chris (the magnificently-coiffed object of her desires). In a total dick move, everyone sneaks out. When Matt appears in the closet instead of her expected beau, Jenna is devastated and curses her one true friend.

Here’s where it gets strange. The magical body change of this movie comes via a conveniently placed cloud of “wishing dust” that falls about Jenna as she brokenheartedly repeats her magazine-inspired manta: “I want to be thirty and flirty and thriving.” In a “presto chango!” that fast forwards her life by seventeen years, the gawky teenager is transformed into Jennifer Garner, and is magically spirited away from her embarrassing suburban house into a sleek Manhattan apartment, complete with a job at a fashion magazine and a hunky professional hockey player for a boyfriend. Even the 30 year-old Tom-Tom (Judy Greer) has become her best friend! Jenna jumps along the timeline from 1987 to 2004, clearing the bog of adolescence and all its trials and embarrassments, and when she comes to, she’s shocked to find what her life has become. You know what they say about being careful what you wish for…

Why 30? Because at 30, you’re supposed to have everything figured out. You’re supposed to have a home and a family and a career. You’re supposed to be set up for the rest of your life. Just writing that sentence made a wave of anxiety wash over me. At thirty, my brother and two older sisters were married, houses and careers secured, little ones either on the way or already arrived. I rent. I have no kids and no plans for kids in the near future. I have two degrees, but have recently made the decision to abandon my career path in favour of I don’t know what. At 30, I’m starting all over again.

Did I do something wrong? Am I a failure? By a lot of people’s standards, yes. Without the traditional benchmarks of success, I wear a target on my back for well-meaning, back-handed comments. When I landed a job working with at-risk teens (a job I am both good at and find incredibly rewarding), the news was superseded by the fact that it only offers part-time hours. “Well, it’s something,” the well-wishers say, with a tight-lipped smile and a hand on my shoulder like I’m a diamond miner who found coal instead. I recently skipped my 10-year high school reunion, in large part because I didn’t want to spend the evening explaining myself and the reasons why things aren’t exactly where I thought they might be.

Like any good Faustian parable, Jenna gets what she wants at the expense of her soul. As the newly-transformed Jenna acclimatizes herself to her new lifestyle, new body, new personal dynamics (just why is everyone afraid of her?), she comes to realize that during that seventeen year lapse, she became kind of a bad person. She’s selling out her coworkers to a rival magazine; she cruelly ditched Matt at that party and never spoke to him again, favouring a Machiavellian rise through the ranks of her high school’s social network; she never sees her family; her boyfriend is a douche. Thirteen-year-old Jenna can’t imagine how she got to this place. By all appearances, she’s everything she wanted to be as a grown-up, but after one week of critical insight into how she got there, the whole thing comes crashing down. Jenna realizes that her rejection of Matt dramatically fractured her one real friendship—and that she’s unable to get him back. Seventeen years of bad blood and hurt feelings have led him into the arms of another woman, and it’s simply too late for her to make sufficient amends. Our hero is long past the time when dancing solves problems.

Jenna, or course, gets to go back. Just when she’s at her lowest, that darn cloud of wishing dust swirls around her and she wakes to find herself back in the closet of her parent’s basement—13 again, with all her choices and mistakes ahead of her. A quick transition to a wedding and a candy-floss pink dream house speak to her better choices the second time around. The film resolves with her on the lawn of her new home, with her old friend/new husband, happy, and very much in love (and by the looks of the house’s size, pretty successful to boot).

And there’s the fiction of it all. I can’t clap my hands and take a year off before going to university to find out what I really want to study instead of just majoring in whichever subject I got the highest marks. I can’t take back those two separate occasions on which I cranked up massive amounts of debt to travel across the Atlantic for two different girls. I should have done more research into just how oversaturated the job market was before I dedicated two years to pursuing a career that maybe I wasn’t very passionate about in the first place. But I can’t do that. And why would I want to?

I like my life. I’ve got good friends, a wonderful family, a caring and supportive partner, and limitless potential. I don’t anticipate having anything figured out as I traverse my thirties, and who’s to say I should? There is no benchmark number. There is no age at which you are supposed to be any one particular thing. I can see the comfort in that way of doing things, but nothing exciting happens when you’re comfortable. That isn’t to say that you should buck tradition for the sake of it. Just know that it’s okay to not have it figured out. You’ve got a friend in me.

But Hollywood gives us happy endings for a reason, and it’s important to keep dreaming. And so, with the help of some conveniently-placed wishing dust, here are a few wishes for my dream life at 30:

  • A publishing deal for that childrens book I started writing about the charming neighbours and their whimsical adventures.
  • A theatre that could financially support all the theatrical people in my town who have professional-level talent, but not professional-level opportunities.
  • The discovery that my dog no longer turns nasty when I try to trim her nails.
  • A real New Penzance Island (from Moonrise Kingdom), where I would live in a replica of Suzy Bishop’s house.
  • Woodworking skills.
  • A local cinema that regularly holds Terrence Malick retrospectives alongside Jim Henson tribute nights.
  • Wisdom, satisfaction, a sense of adventure.


Andrew Root wants it known that this is the first movie that Andy Serkis chose to do after Lord of the Rings. He tumbls here.

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