Switch is painfully cringe-worthy, so much so that the film subsequently morphs into a surprisingly digestible, ramshackle comedy. The point at which this happens is imperceptible. You keep watching this blissfully unhinged mess, never mind that Alex Ekubo is awfully terrible in his roles, with his stiff, pallid lines that feels like he’s rehearsing with the script for the first time. When I said roles, I meant the model-turned-actor oscillated between characters: masculine and feminine. Which is the point of Switch, anyway.
Switch occurs in a modern, nuclear family where gender roles are strictly observed and romanticised. Leonard (Alex Ekubo) is a big-time architect married to Uhuoma (Bayray Mcnwizu), a stay-at-home wife who, in the early scenes in the film, looks pathetically flustered. Rendered neurotic by overwhelming domestic duties, Uhuoma is trying to adjust to their son’s new class, which demands that she wakes early enough in the mornings to prepare him for school. Her hair is routinely dishevelled and she could really use some make-up. And Leonard berates her on her appearance one breakfast morning, but this is after he soullessly tells her that he doesn’t want to hear her alarm ring again because he finds it disturbing.
You see, Leonard is an insensitive douchebag, and should take worst fictional husband of the year. He asserts his masculinity in patriarchal codes, and self-righteously calls his wife “lazy” when she complains that he doesn’t support her domestically. “I have given you a car and a washing machine and you have sophisticated kitchen gadgets. Why do you need my help?” Leonard retorts.
Switch examines Leonard’s family with a familiar but grounded lens, aestheticising the family model as something glitzy and aspirational. At work, Leonard is still the same douchebag. In a scene that hews closely to The Devil Wears Prada where the staff at Runway magazine scamper and fidget at the cold arrival of Meryl Streep’s character, Leonard is just about feared the same way. Although unexplained, there’s a mysticism in the film that brings Uhuoma to a freakily cheerful old woman that Uhuoma almost hits with her car while driving her son to school. The encounter is ridiculous. Like, why is Uhuoma so irrationally burdened by the guilt of nearly murdering the old woman that she offers her a ride? I’d have profusely apologised and gone my way. But the encounter had to happen, right?
Turns out that the woman is some kind of angel with a mission to mend the fractures in distressed homes, keep marriages intact or something. When she leaves a blue-jewelled ring behind in Uhuoma’s car and suspiciously disappears, the film clearly establishes its mystic element. That night, Uhuoma and Leonard swap bodies, and their subsequent reactions to this flesh-and-blood discovery initiates the film’s rippling cascade of bad acting. Uhuoma and Leonard emerge as gender caricatures, moreso for Leonard as he’s twisted into a bad, feminized robot fed with a clichéd diet of stereotypes and mannerisms.
The catwalk, the swinging of imaginary hair, and the supple bend of the wrists were overdone. No inventiveness whatsoever. Though outwardly effeminate, Leonard’s effeminacy doesn’t come from the heart, so it all seems like a show. I felt a bone-deep frustration at this because it rendered the state of being a woman as something to be derided. As a social reality, it’s a borderline careless and hamfisted portrayal. As cinema, it doesn’t measure up to the outstanding films produced in the body switch genre. Face/Off, Freaky Friday, and 13 Going on 30 are just a few of the body switch movies that are masterfully complex, with Face/Off exploding the safe limits of the genre.
Switch is directed by Willis Ikedum, known for works like Ogondah and Mummy Dearest, and it’s not surprising that Ikedum’s rendition of the body swap device tows after Disguise and My Wife and I. Sure, more Nollywood films will bountifully come in this genre, and perhaps same-sex body switches should be explored this time, since filmmakers can’t seem to get opposite-sex swaps rights.
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies and reading comics and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.