Monday, February 17, 2014

I Love You, Dude: "Date and Switch" a likable, sweet surprise that rejects stereotypes



Date and Switch (2014)
91 min., rated R.

"Gay Dude" would have gotten more attention as a title, or scared away less open-minded straight audiences, but the shooting title was changed to "Date and Switch," which, of course, is a cute double entendre for "bait and switch." Being released only into select theaters and video-on-demand platforms, this likably modest little high-school comedy is smarter, funnier, and sweeter than anything the teen genre has seen in a while. Director Chris Nelson (who luckily recovers after 2013's "Ass Backwards") and writer Alan Yang (TV's "Parks and Recreation") break down the wall of teen-movie clichés with a peppy film that doesn't pander or fall into obvious exaggeration or stereotypes. Their tone is shrewder than that verbally raunchy but politically correct, and goofy without being stupid.

Here's a classic setup. Matty (Hunter Cope), the schlubby one, and Michael (Nicholas Braun), the "smooth-talking" one, are 18 years old, have been best friends since grade school in Glen Ellen, California, and play in an instrumental TV theme-song cover band. After both dump their girlfriends, they make a pact to do the deed by prom. Then there's a fresh, progressive wrinkle on that setup. That same night, Matty comes out to Michael ("I'm a gay dude." "Like gay gay? Like dicks in butts gay, or like retarded gay? Like dude, Nicolas Cage movies are gay!") Michael needs time to wrap his brain around this unexpected news, but nothing really changes at first, as he becomes Matty's wingman. Then Matty's ex, Em (Dakota Johnson), enters the picture. Even after he's come out of the closet to both Em and Michael, a drug-induced Matty loses his virginity with an intoxicated Em. Afterwards, Matty starts seeing Greg (Zach Cregger), while Michael starts falling for Em. Common complications ensue.

A bromance at its core, "Date and Switch" isn't so much a story of self-discovery about a teenage boy's insecurities in coming out of the closet. We've seen that before. Instead, it's about another teenage boy coming to terms with his best friend's homosexuality; a momentary change that will ultimately change nothing between them. As Michael, Nicholas Braun is likable and knows how to deliver a line, reminding somewhat of another Miles Teller but carving out his own individual spot. Relative newcomer Hunter Cope is Braun's equal as Matty, establishing a very relatable portrayal of an 18-year-old who's always knew about his true sexual identity and finally reveals it to his best friend. Together, they are one of the more appealing and endearing pairs of dudes in the "Superbad" mold. Of course, Michael doesn't know how to act right away and doesn't always do the right thing, but he does lug around a pot brownie cake he and Matty made together as a symbol of their friendship. The treatment of Matty immediately rejects the mincing, light-in-his-loafers caricature. Even he admits to being overweight, not liking curtains, and never having watched the Tony Awards. When the friends go to their first gay bar—or first bar—Michael is actually more excited to find someone for Matty, who retorts, "I'm not just gonna have sex with anyone because I'm gay. I'm gay. I'm not a whore."

Dakota Johnson (daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) is radiant and down-to-earth as Em, a mature, free-thinking young woman who's even guilty of making a mistake when under the influence of alcohol but never blames herself or acts insensitive for Matty being gay. Greg feels more like an idea than a fully formed person, but Zach Cregger (2009's "Miss March") still gives the character a personality and a point-of-view. The rest of the supporting cast is also fun. Gary Cole plays Matty's manly father, and Megan Mullally (who just played a gay teen's mother in this year's "G.B.F."), as Matty's mother, combines her comedic shtick and talents for making a scene ring truer and more touching than it could be. Rob Huebel, Aziz Ansari, and Wendi McLendon-Covey also turn up in broadly funny cameos.

The Matty-Greg relationship could have been explored more deeply, but as it stands, "Date and Switch" is more of a bromance. There's the embarrassing "dad walking in on son looking at porn" gag, à la "American Pie," between curious Michael and his father (Nick Offerman), but it's handled in an amusing way that doesn't force the father character to be an idiot. Most of the film is like that, treating its characters with a refreshing intelligence and allowing each one to actually communicate in way actual humans do. "Date and Switch" isn't strictly a "gay movie" and should be accessible to everyone. Of course, the movie that gets the "bro friendship" right gets less of a chance than "That Awkward Moment," which solely slid by on the chemistry of its three more-recognizable male stars. In contrast, this has more to say in an uncommonly positive light and comes as a nice surprise.

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