“Date and Switch” is, happily, the third high school comedy in three months—after “Geography Club” and “G.B.F.”—to feature a positive gay teen character in a central role. In this film, Matty (Hunter Cope) and his best buddy Michael (Nicholas Braun) make a pact: dump their respective girlfriends Em (Dakota Johnson) and Ava (Sarah Hyland), and find better babes for the prom—girls who will help them finally lose their virginity. Michael also makes a potent batch of hash brownies, which they will devour to celebrate getting laid. The hitch comes when they guys go for a drive and Matty comes out to Michael.
“Date and Switch” may rely on easy gay stereotypes as the out of shape Matty jokes that he is not into curtains, has never seen the Tony Awards, and does not wear V-neck sweaters. He may be diffusing the situation for Michael, but director Chris Nelson, working from a script by Alan Yang (“Parks and Recreation”), shrewdly does not focus on the gay character’s discomfort. Matty is just a “regular dude” (the film was originally titled “Gay Dude”), who happens to be queer. “Date and Switch” approaches the comedy of the situation from Michael’s point of view after Matty drops the “big fat fucking gay bomb.” This is admirable even if the film itself is mediocre.
“Date and Switch” mines its sit-comic humor as Michael tries to wrap his head around the fact that Matty has, as Michael badly rhymes, “gay-ness in his penis.” As Michael opens his mind to his best friend’s situation, he commits to “going on [Matty’s] gay journey.” In one of the more amusing lines, Michael encourages his newly out buddy to meet other gay guys, telling Matty, “You have to put your ass out there if you want to get something put in it.”
The film delights in the characters’ naiveté, even if it strains credibility for laughs. A scene where Michael Googles “gay dude” and enters the Falcon Studios porn site “for research” provides the teen comedy checklist source of embarrassment humor. Michael’s father (a wonderfully dry Nick Offerman) walks in the room as gay porn sounds emit from his son’s computer. Cue a later joke where the misunderstanding, but trying to be understanding dad asks his son, “Want to watch The L Word?”
Even if the film’s comedy is juvenile, “Date and Switch” deserves credit for taking a mature (for American teen comedy) approach to the topic. Michael’s gay panic is not that Matty is going to try to “convert” him sexually; rather, he is afraid that he is going to lose his best friend to another guy—one who can give him a love that goes beyond just a bromance.
When Michael accompanies Matty to a local gay bar, the guys meet the flamboyant Jared (Adam DiMarco). Later, they encounter Greg (Zach Cregger), who rear ends them in the parking lot.
“Date and Switch” develops its romantic plotline when Matty later bumps into Greg at a fast food joint and turns out to really like him. This development, which results in Matty and Greg spending more and more time together, foments Michael’s jealousy at losing his best friend. It also prompts Michael to behave badly, outing Matty to his unsuspecting parents (Gary Cole and Megan Mullally). Another complication that causes a rift between the two friends has Michael dating Matty’s ex, Em.
It is no surprise that before the film’s end the guys will hug it out. But any “kissing and making up” is reserved for their respective partners, Greg and Em, who must suffer through the best friends’ acting up and out with each other.
“Date and Switch” features some nice bonding between Matty and Greg. Their sexuality is just one of many things they have in common; Mexican wrestling is another. Curiously, their only real discussion of sexuality consists of Matty simply asking Greg, “How are you a gay guy?” It is a sweet moment that viewers will appreciate, especially since they are asked to ignore the potential inappropriateness of Greg dating a teenager. “Date and Switch” makes Greg an attractive and suitable man-child companion for Matty. The most threatening thing about him is the temper he displayed in the bar parking lot.
“Date and Switch” wants to celebrate the “average” gay dude, not the fabulous queers (e.g., Jared), even though the teens enjoy a visit to a trendy nightclub. The fact that Matty and Michael get high and dancing naked in the club’s foam room does not go unnoticed. But gay audiences should be pleased that such a scene exists, and nothing untoward is made of it. There is enough innocence on display here that “Date and Switch” might actually be the kind of knucklehead comedy that a gay and straight best friend could enjoy seeing together. (Rather than gay teens seeing a chick flick with their female BFFs).
The male lead characters may be in a state arrested adolescence, but the guys often act like pre-teens, especially in a sequence at a go-kart arena. This episode may be the weakest part of the film, but it has a purpose: Michael wants to recapture the innocence of his youth with Matty from before his friend came out.
Thankfully, “Date and Switch” resists references to the guys’ history of sleepovers or sexually experimentation before Matty’s sexuality divided them. Sex for Michael and Matty is more of a goal than a reality because they are emotionally underdeveloped. When Matty does have drunken sex with his ex, Em, it is likely less about losing his virginity and more about reaffirming his homosexuality.
Matty is refreshingly comfortable with who he is, even though he is afraid to come out to his parents. However, his assured character does need a dramatic obstacle to overcome.
Michael also has valuable qualities despite his selfishness. He admits publicly—and at the prom no less—that he is OK with the fact that folks might think he is gay. He also knows that he and Matty will be friends no matter whom they love.
This is the beauty of this intriguing if unexceptional comedy. The queer character in “Date and Switch” is neither confused, nor depressed; it’s the straight one who struggles. And he learns from his gay best friend how to better understand himself.
“Date and Switch” is opening in theaters and on demand this Friday, February 14th.
Gary M. Kramer is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and a contributor to Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News and other queer alternative weeklies.