The Sexiest Man Alive: Ellen Barkin in Switch

That is not a mistake in the title: Ellen Barkin is the sexiest man alive. Let me explain.

Recently, while digging through DVDs looking for something in particular, I stumbled on my old copy of a movie few seem to remember these days, Switch (1991). As I held the ancient snap-case DVD in my hands (sadly, I don’t think Switch has seen a DVD upgrade, or a Blu-ray or 4K enhanced release in the US yet), I chuckled at the cover image of a practically pantsless Ellen Barkin dangling off the barrel of a giant gun while holding on tight to the necktie of a startled Jimmy Smits. Then I thought about how much I always enjoyed this silly movie, and particularly Barkin’s phenomenal lead performance.

So what is Switch, you may be asking right now, especially if you’re under thirty? Well, it’s director Blake Edwards’ (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 10, Victor/Victoria) penultimate film, a comic take on what happens when a male chauvinist pig is killed off by three of his ex-lovers and reincarnated into the rockin’ body of Ellen Barkin. As you might imagine, ribald antics and regressive gender-swapping hilarity ensue!

In order to get into heaven, the reincarnated Steve (Perry King), brought back as blonde bombshell Amanda (Barkin), must atone for his sins against women. What follows is a rollicking sex farce, brimming with oh-so-very-1991 political incorrectness. Barkin shines in a hilarious send-up of privileged masculinity—all while in the body of a woman, of course, which makes it so much more biting—and convincingly portrays Amanda’s/Steve’s journey from a clueless womanizer to some well-earned semblance of self-awareness.

Switch’s schtick is quite retrograde, especially when it uncomfortably breezes over issues like date rape and abortion with a serious lack of nuisance, but the central performance by Barkin is so epically great that any troubling issues melt away whenever she’s onscreen. Thankfully she’s onscreen for most of the movie. I’m not sure I can adequately convey just how good I think she is in this movie, and how she elevates it to something truly memorable, but I’ll try.

The actress’s gift for physical comedy is on glorious display throughout. Barkin, as Steve as Amanda—dude looks like a lady—slouches lowdown in chairs, legs spread wide, completely oblivious to flashing her panties to the guys around her. She scratches her crotch and totters on high heels while asserting her maleness everywhere she goes. Then there’s the bar fight scene, which is pure comedy gold, as Amanda mixes it up with the fellas, taking and landing punches with reckless abandon.

It’s not just Barkin’s acting chops that made Switch unforgettable for me though. Barkin has always oozed sex appeal out of every pore of her body. I’ve had a mad, decades-long crush on her, and you probably have too. Few actresses brought such searing sexuality to the screen in the 1980s and 1990s—and let’s be real, she still brings it to the screen today. Her career took off in the ‘80s with a series of memorable performances, from Diner (1982) to The Big Easy (1987) to Sea of Love (1989) and more, Barkin was absolutely on fire in those films. Who could ever forget her grocery shopping in nothing but a trench coat and heels, seducing Al Pacino at the corner bodega in Sea of Love? Not me, that’s for sure.

What makes Barkin so unbelievably, unspeakably hot is not just her uniquely beautiful face, or killer legs, or bedroom eyes, or the way she curls her lips into a sly sexy smile—I could go on. No, it’s also her undeniably attractive personality. She’s often tough and sensual onscreen, but also vulnerable and endearingly funny. She has great comic timing!

Switch remains a worthwhile watch because it’s a starring vehicle for Barkin. which hasn’t happened a lot in her career. Sure, the film’s supporting players are terrific (Smits is sweet and charming, while JoBeth Williams vamps it up), but the movie belongs to Barkin. With the camera on her nearly nonstop, and with no room for error, she seizes the over-the-too role by the throat and plays it to within an inch of its life. The script calls for her to be bawdy, sexy, and sardonic while trying to make sense of this female shell her character is now inhabiting, and she nails every moment.

I’ll always have a soft spot for Switch. It’s such a lovely showcase for Ellen Barkin’s talent and range, and a reminder that when given the opportunity to carry a movie, she delivered in spades.

Happy birthday wishes to Ellen Barkin, who turns 69 on April 16th.

2 thoughts on “The Sexiest Man Alive: Ellen Barkin in Switch

  1. This sounds very similar to the 1964 film Goodbye Charlie with Debbie Reynolds and Tony Curtis, two difference are is that Charlie was shot by a jealous husband, and Charlie deciding to use his karma as brought back as a woman to get payback on the man who shot him. I always thought Ellen Barkin was underrated as an actress, and here she looks to be at her finest. I vaguely recall this film, but it does look interesting and enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

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