Past Lives: Jason Bateman

In honour of his stand-out turn in the not-very-good body swap comedy The Change-Up, we take a look back at the previous roles of Mr Jason Bateman
For years (and we mean years, this guy started out young) Jason Bateman has been turning out great film performances in supporting roles and ensemble casts. For many of us though, especially on this side of the Atlantic, it’s taken until now to match a name to his everyman-ish face. After decades as “you, know, that guy” in movies, playing the brother, the best friend, and the co-worker in a heap of rom-com fodder, this year’s The Change-Up and Horrible Bosses both put Bateman front and centre, showing off his considerable talents as a comic actor even when he’s not dealt the best material.
Great in Juno, invisible in The Break-Up and strong in Paul, Jason Bateman’s star has been steadily rising for decades. Let’stake a little trawl back through his career to see just how he got here.
Breakthrough role
Bateman’s career as a child star in the US kicked-off a good three decades ago. Between 1981-2 he played little
James Cooper Ingalls in the TV series The Little House on the Prairie. If memory serves, it was a show mostly resting on the peril of whether Pa would make it back from the market with the molasses every week, but we’re sure little Jason acted his socks off in the role. I never did find out what molasses were…
Out of his comfort zone
After reaching Vince Vaughan-like levels of rom-com ubiquity (and co-starring with Vaughan in most of them), 2009 saw Bateman swerve left for a role in crime thriller State of Play. Opposite Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, Bateman managed to bring a smidge of humour to the role of Dominic Foy, a pill-popping PR guy who gets wrapped up in the suspicious death being investigated by Crowe’s journalist. Not his usual genre, then, but not a bad choice at all for Bateman, who reversed his trademark ‘straight man in a crazy situation’ shtick against a thriller backdrop. Bravo sir.
Punch-the-air moment
Less one single air-punchingly great performance, and more three seasons of them, Fox’s Arrested Development is the kind of show which breeds die-hard fans (and we’re not talking about Bruce Willis in a vest). As Michael (or should we say Nichael?) Bluth, Bateman plays a widowed single father thrust uncomfortably into a corporate role when Bluth senior goes for an extended stay at her majesty’s pleasure, or whatever the US-version of that prison euphemism is.
Arrested Development is quite simply one of the best US comedies of recent years, and coming from the land which makes 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Modern Family and Community, that’s saying something. Bateman is more or less the lead in this ensemble piece, starring alongside a young Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi, Will Arnett and too many great guest appearances to count.
As winter sets in, if you’ve not seen Arrested Development and you’ll accept any word of advice from Movie Reviews, please let it be this one: get hold of the box-set as fast as your little Amazon fingers can type, you won’t regret it.
Under the radar
Mike Judge’s 2009 film Extract made very little impact outside of hardened Judge fans. While Idiocracy and Office Space enthusiasts sought out this gentle workplace satire, which also stars Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig and Ben Affleck, the rest of the film world was left largely undisturbed, despite a handful of positive reviews.
Bateman was well-cast as lead Joel in the likeable farce, playing the part with characteristic understatement and using his everyman-ishness to show his character becoming slowly unhinged by circumstance. He kept a lid on the zaniness seen in livelier roles such as stoner sports announcer Pepper Brookes in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, and turned in a very competent performance. It’s just a shame not many people got the chance to see it.
Would rather forget
This one was tricky to call. As we said earlier, Bateman’s been working since the age of twelve, so it would be a miracle if every movie he booked was a zinger. He’s got quite a few contenders for the “would rather forget” category, and in the top three have to be 1987’s Teen Wolf Too, 2002’s The Sweetest Thing and 2009’s Couple’s Retreat.
Teen Wolf Too, which saw Bateman take over Michael J Fox’s role in a film that follows the travails of the hirsute basketball-dunking, van-surfing character in his freshman year, can be put down as a youthful misadventure that probably financed some ill-advised haircuts and nights out Bateman would also rather forget to boot. As youthful folly goes, it's forgivable.
You can’t really say the same for the other two however, and it has to be Couple’s Retreat which wears the crown of shame here. On paper, it looked… all right we suppose, an ensemble comedy from the writers of Swingers. On screen, you more or less had to watch this laugh-free comedy through your fingers. Bad move Bateman.
Next up
He’s no shirker, this chap. In Jason Bateman’s little “Projects in Development” box there are no fewer than six on the way, including a return to his role as Michael in the much-discussed future film of Arrested Development.
With a background in directing and producing television, Bateman stays pretty busy behind the camera, but already has sewn his nametag into the collars of a bunch of upcoming films, including comedy ID Theft with Bridesmaids star Melissa McCarthy, which he’s also producing. After that, there’s another questionable-sounding Vince Vaughan vehicle, The Insane Laws, and a role as a weed dealer in another comedy, We’re the Millers.
He just keeps on keeping on does Jason Bateman, working hard and spitting out gems along the way. You can currently see him as the best thing by a long way in gross-out body swap comedy The Change-Up. Mr Bateman, we await your next move with anticipation.

on Mon, 09/19/2011 - 10:40