Movie Review: Swingers (1996)

Mikey's the big winner! He's all grows up!

Swingers (1996)

Starring: Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, Patrick Van Horn, Alex Désert, Heather Graham

Directed by: Doug Liman

There seems to be a vicious rumour going around that I’m a “complete movie-pessimist”, so I figured I should put an end to it right here, and review one of my all-time favourites. See? I really do like movies! Which, of course, only makes me more ornery when they suck.

Although, I’m not sure if I’ll really be doing much to disprove the impression that I don’t like most movies by cherry-picking one of my favourites for a review. Also, I’m not even that sure I’ll be able to do much of a review for it anyway. I’ve already killed the suspense by naming it one of my favourite movies, and it’s tough to critically appraise something for the first time in writing when you have every piece of dialogue burned into your memory.

But I shall try to impart more to you dear reader than the fact that this is my favourite movie, with dialogue worthy of complete memorization (although, if I haven’t made it clear yet, it is both of those things), for this is a movie deserves the effort. And, if you are an unfortunate soul that has yet to see it, it deserves your attention.

When it first made a splash ten years ago as the little indie-that-could (yes, it’s been ten years now), a big deal was made about its stylish dialogue and swing music aesthetic. Suddenly it was cool to listen to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and refer to girls as “beautiful babies” and things as being “so money”. Like many things that capture the cultural zeitgeist, it seemed fresh and hip for five minutes, until people moved on to the next thing.

Which is fine, because this movie is much more than its cocktail nation trappings. It’s also much more than just another libidinous comedy about young guys looking to score. If that were the case, the jokes and situations would’ve gotten stale years and dozens of viewings ago. Sure, the movie is about a group of young men trying to make it in Hollywood, who go to parties and bars on the scene, trying to score. But, at it’s heart, Swingers is a comedy about male friendships and how guys pick each other up and look out for one another without sitting around talking about our feelings.

The camaraderie amongst the guys in this movie is as authentic and accurate as any movie I’ve ever seen. A large part of this comes from the fact that writer and star Jon Favreau was friends with the guys in the cast, and he, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, and Patrick Van Horn were young friends trying to make it in Hollywood. Favreau took situations and feelings from their experiences, and is thus able to infuse the film with realism and heart.

The emotional resonance in the film that always draws me back to the movie comes from Mike’s (Favreau) story. He is trying to come to terms with the long-distance breakup with his girlfriend back home, preferring to wallow in his misery in his dank apartment. But, his friends won’t let Mike self-destructively wallow the whole time, but instead force him out to go to parties, play Sega hockey, and Vegas baby, VEGAS!!! I’ve been in that situation, with all the attendant depression and self-doubt. There were times when I had friends who would help me like Trent (Vaughn), Rob (Livingston), and Sue (Van Horn) helped Mike, by hanging out with me and suggesting I move forward with my life. This is how guys do it, or at least how guys I know do it. We don’t talk out our feelings and we don’t lose ourselves in the crushing ennui of our emo lives like some Zach Braff movie. Sometimes, we just hang out and watch Swingers.

Made for a scant $250,000, Swingers is an intimate film that looks a lot better than other small budget indies from the 90s, like Clerks or The Brothers McMullen. Director Doug Liman pushed through a short production schedule, using every guerrilla filmmaking technique at his disposal, including shooting pages of dialogue at a time, shooting in a casino while it’s open, and being his own director of photography. The story, his direction, and the performances are all strong enough that you never think about how low budget the film is, which is a credit to everyone involved.

There are monologues and moments in this film that resonate with me, providing life wisdom along with the numerous laughs throughout the movie (any dude who is thinking of drunk-dialing his ex or pouring out his feelings on someone’s answering machine should be forced to watch Mike’s answering machine scene… even if you have to watch through your fingers). This is the Diner for my generation, with as many laughs but more heart than this generation’s Wedding Crashers. It is required viewing for anyone who knows me.

4.5/5

Related Reviews:
Clerks (1994)
Entourage Seasons One and Two
Wedding Crashers (2005)

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