Classic Movie Reviews
Directed by Doug Liman
Starring: Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn
by Mike Peters
Mike Peters (perhaps the greatest character name ever for film), portrayed by Jon Favreau, is a wannabe actor who has moved out to Los Angeles from New York. He has recently broken up with his long time girlfriend and is still devastated by it. Fearing the worst for his friend, Trent (Vince Vaughn) vows to do whatever it takes to get Mike back into the game and proceeds to take him out to cocktail lounges, parties in the Hollywood Hills and, of course, Las Vegas to get his mind back on track.
‘Swingers’ is a film concerned with the heartbreak and torment of a love struck individual attempting to come to terms with who he is as a person. From this vague description, one would assume that this film is about sorrow and loss. To tell you the truth, it is. But, the films delivers it with such authentic sincerity that it becomes both humorous and humbling at the same time.
In Hollywood, status is everything. Wealth, success and, especially, geographical location are all crucial to this fundamental element of importance. In fact, a great representative of one’s own stature of significance in Hollywood is that the farther west one lives (from downtown Los Angeles), the more successful one appears to be. Mike desires success but has not yet achieved that status. As a result, he is relegated to inhabiting a dinky, unfurnished apartment in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. I guess he is east of success at this point. As a consequence, the films key thematic concern becomes firmly established. Mike is an outsider. He does not exist in this world. He is forced to quarantine himself within his apartment and hide from this part of the world that has not yet accepted him.
In fact, Mike’s friend, Rob (Ron Livingston), is dealing with the same sort of upheavals. Rob (having recently moved out to Los Angeles) notes that back when he was in New York two months ago, he was playing Hamlet in an Off-Broadway play. Now, he is auditioning for the role of Goofy (to entertain customers around the theme park) for Walt Disney (in fact, later on, we discover that Rob fails to obtain this role because of his lack of theme park experience). During one crucial moment however, Rob confesses that he only came out here because he was inspired by Mike to do so. To be honest, there are thousands of people each year who journey to Los Angeles in search of stardom only to be cast away. As a result, these people become bitter and begin to question the dreams they had when they initially arrived in this ferocious town. These people feel alone and thus isolate themselves from one another. Hollywood does not care for the individual unless that individual can do something for them.
In a fit of despair, Mike weighs the option of heading back to New York. He has all but given up. Los Angeles has gotten the better of him. However, the character of Trent has not given up on him. He is determined to help Mike get back onto his feet and reestablish him as a member of society. Relentlessly, Trent proceeds to take Mike out to numerous establishments to show him that there is more to life then self pity and self loathing.
Trent, however, is not without his own flaws. He is a fun loving guy but he is all pizzazz and fizzle. His intentions are honorable but he has built himself up into something that is highly questionable. He believes that he has it all figured out when, in fact, he is as much an outsider as Mike is (Trent just hides it better). This is greatly emphasized when Mike, Trent and three other friends head to a party in the Hollywood Hills. As they enter, everyone stares in bewilderment. They are not an accepted member of this status quo. It is a party for people who have made it. Not for people who desire to make it. Yes, Trent disguises himself as a member of this community and cleverly inserts himself within it (for a time being) but Mike is unable to do the same. Attempting to establish himself within this ‘important’ group, Mike proceeds to mingle with a female partygoer. The first thing she inquires about is the make of his car. When Mike confesses that he has a Cavalier, she turns away in disgust and ignores him. He cannot fake his way into this world because he is not yet fit to be a part of this world (not yet anyways).
Given the serious tone of this review thus far, ‘Swingers’ is in fact one of the most hip and fun films of the past twenty years. The characterizations are realistically well drawn and the vocabulary enunciated by this group of friends is fresh, intriguing and memorable. They discuss issues that are non-important to some but relevant to others (Discussions about the tracking shot in ‘Goodfellas’ (1990) and the slow-motion opening of ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992)-which are both reenacted in the film) and they have interesting modes of speech and communication (Vegas Baby, Vegas), (Baby, you are so money, and you don’t even know it!). In fact, the language can be characterized as normal typical banter spoken amongst any group of friends concerned with discussing the nature of popular culture (highly reminiscent of Seinfeld). These people could be any one of us and the film whole heartedly embraces this fact.
One of the key contributors to the overall effectiveness of this film is in its use of music. Many vintage crooners are nostalgically revisited here (like Dean Martin) while simultaneously incorporating swing music through the likes of the band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Swing music is an important element for this film because it gives the film life. It helps to destroy the self pity of Mike and awakens him to the possibilities of hope (it plays an important part during the last twenty minutes of this film). The films somber subject matter is undermined by the up beat nature of this vibrant genre of music. Sincerely, ‘Swingers’ is not a film that attempts to sadden the viewer. It is here to rejuvenate the tortured soul and to reestablish the battered human psyche. The important element here is the value of friends. No matter how down and out one may be; true friends will always remain by your side. In fact, Mike’s trust in his friends helps him to reemerge as a member of this alien society. Yes, there are many embarrassing modes of dialogue and one extremely unsettling sequence with an answering machine (perhaps one of the most difficult scenes to watch in film history) for Mike but he is able to bounce back from his humiliation.
‘Swingers’ is an extremely low budget film ($250,000 to be exact) but it never lets its budget constraints prevent it from being what it truly wants to be. It is a film with heart and soul and deserves to be categorized as one of the greater buddy films of all time.