Screenplay : Jon Favreau
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Jon Favreau (Mike), Vince Vaughn (Trent), Ron Livingston (Rob), Patrick Van Horn (Sue), Alex Desert (Charles), Heather Graham (Lorraine), Deena Martin (Christy), Katherine Kendall (Lisa), Brooke Langton (Nikki)
"Swingers" depicts in finely studied detail everything this is bad and good about being a single man in the nineties. The entire film is told from the roving male point of view, although the film shifts among different kinds of men. The point of "Swingers" is not to pigeonhole or stereotype; rather, it wants to show the wide variety of male personalities, and how not all think and respond in the same manner when it comes to women.
The film deals with four men who are living in Southern California and trying to make it as actors: Mike (John Favreau, who also wrote the screenplay), Trent (Vince Vaughn), Rob (Ron Livingston), and Sue (Alex Desert). Each man represents a different aspect of the male ego, from shy and insecure, to aggressive and confident. And, although they each have their own unique flaws, they are all fundamentally decent people.
The film focuses mostly on Mike, who left his girlfriend in New York six months earlier when he came to work in L.A. He is still pining away for her, even though she has apparently already taken up with someone else. He can't quite get over her, and whenever he finds himself alone with another woman, he ends up talking about his long-lost love, and undermines any chances he has of moving on with someone else.
Trent, on the other hand, is a true swinger. He's cocky and confident, more or less the polar opposite of Mike. Trent has no intentions of long term relationships, and has no problem approaching any woman in a bar. Early in the movie, he and Mike make a late night trip to Las Vegas, and it is immediately apparent who is secure and who isn't. While Mike fumbles with his money and accidentally ends up wasting most of it on one bet at the $100 minimum table (he only has $300 to his name), Trent is successfully picking up their waitress.
"Swingers" is a character study in the truest sense. It follows these characters around to parties in the hills, bars, clubs, and Rob's living room where they sit around playing video game hockey on Nintendo before they go out. Everything they do is reflective of who they are and how they react to social situations.
Screenwriter Favreau strengthens the characters and the reality of the situations by making wonderful use of language and male jargon. The most oft-used word in the movie is "baby," which is usually in reference to women. However, the word is wisely stripped of any blatant sexist connotations because the men also use it to refer to each other: "C'mon baby, you gotta go with us! Just think of all the pretty babies we're going to meet there."
Beyond that, the movie has a number of finishing touches that are downright hilarious. "Swingers" is the kind of movie where the little details make the difference. For instance, Sue got his name because of his father's love of Johnny Cash. Another scene shows Trent and Rob complaining that Nintendo removed fighting from the newest version of video game hockey. Later, when Mike tries to meet a girl at a party, the first thing she asks him is, "What kind of car do you drive?" Or, when Rob doesn't get a job working as Goofy at Disneyland, he collapses in a chair and proclaims, "I didn't have enough theme park experience."
Of course, because the movie takes place in L.A. and all the principle characters want to be actors, there are numerous movie references and in-jokes. In one scene, they are all sitting around a table discussing Tarantino and Scorsese movies, and the whole time the camera is circling around them in a direct copy of the opening scene in "Reservoir Dogs." And, just in case somebody missed that reference, the next scene shows them walking out to their cars in the same manner as the criminals in that same movie. And, to top it off, director Liman stages a perfectly executed ode to the infamous Copacabana shot in Scorsese's "GoodFellas."
Of course, these shots are done with an obviously tongue-in-cheek attitude. Most of the film comes off lighthearted with just a touch of nineties-style irony. Because Mike is the center of the story, we identify with him the most. We understand his confusion at the whirlwind lifestyle he finds himself in, and it is quickly obvious that he doesn't quite fit. So, when the end draws closer, and we watch as he finds himself amidst the swirling bars and dancing nights, it's like a breath of fresh air.
©1997 James Kendrick