Swingers (1996)

swingers

“Baby, you are so money and you don’t even know it!”

The Scoop: 1996 R, directed by Doug Liman and starring Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn and Heather Graham

Tagline: Get a nightlife.

Summary Capsule: Jon Favreau spends an hour and a half convincing us he can’t get any girl he wants, then gets a super-hot girl. Go figure.

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Drew’s rating: There’s nothing wrong with letting the beautiful babies know that you’re still money and that if not for your wife and daughter, you would want to party.

Drew’s review: It may be hard to fathom now, but there was a brief period of time when I was semi-money. Starting in college when I finally got a damn haircut, I somehow gained the ability to engage the opposite sex in conversation and (successfully) ask for dates. I could actually meet a girl at a party and be making out with her two hours later… no difficult feat, yet unimaginable to younger Drew. This superpower lasted until the day my future wife joined our company and noticed the hot piece of something whose desk abutted the training room. Whether those abilities still lie dormant within me, I don’t know, nor does it really matter; but the point is, they were there.

Swingers is at its core the story of a man who has lost his money-ness. For you squares, that’s the id, the libido, the je ne sais quoi. It’s been six months since Mike (Jon Favreau) was dumped by his longtime girlfriend and moved to LA to be an actor, and he’s not even close to over it. This despite the fact that his friends are a collection of unassuming nice guys (Ron Livingston) and smooth-talking players who could charm nuns in a convent (Vince Vaughn, Patrick Van Horn), all of whom make it their personal mission to pull Mike out of his funk, be it through trips to Vegas, baby, Vegas, or by taking him to every bar and party in LA to get him drunk and laid. The problem with the second part of this equation is that Mike’s still so hung up on his ex, he c-blocks himself more effectively than anyone else ever could. (And I say that from the perspective of someone who once had to abandon a girl because his friend got drunk off of two beers and needed someone to hold his head while he threw up. Mind you, he was 24 at the time. Freakin’ lightweight.) The question is, will Mike’s friends be able to convince him of how unbelievably money he is in time, or will he give in and crawl back to New York begging his ex to take him back?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: there are some movies the Mutants review because they’re new and original and we just can’t wait to gush about them, and there are others that we review because a deadline is looming and darn it, we’d just kind of like an excuse to watch them again. For me, Swingers is the latter, and I make no apologies. There’s not much I can add that wasn’t touched on by Justin and Clare and the shortest review PoolMan’s ever written. (Dude, did you send that as a text message or something?) Much like Clerks before it, it’s a cheap little independent movie that shows the youth and rawness of its principals, but nonetheless has something to say and keeps you immensely entertained while doing it. Could you ask for more?

You want me to elaborate? Fine – while Favreau had been in movies before, I believe this was his first leading man role, and it’s fair to say that Swingers essentially launched Vince Vaughn’s career. Both look incredibly young and thin, but in this case their inexperience works for them, as we’re supposed to buy them as fledgling actors. The dialogue is eminently quotable, and you can roll your eyes now and complain about how dated everything sounds, but at the time it was fresh and cool, if a tad repetitive. (Besides, “rad” is back these days, why not “money”?) The same goes for the overall swing/Rat Pack vibe… true, it lasted for a grand total of about 14 months, but it’s quaint and pretty fun to look back on now. To be frank, the country could use another fad that extols the virtues of staying out late, drinking, and carousing.

I guess that’s all I really have. If you don’t like this movie, you have no taste. If you haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet, there’s hope for you, but you need to act quickly. Put on a nice suit or cocktail dress, pour yourself a gin and tonic (scotch will do in a pinch), and settle back to enjoy. Bonus points if you watch it with, or are yourself, a beautiful baby.

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Justin’s rating: Ray, if someone asks you if you’re a god, YOU SAY YES!!!! (I love to use that line… it works in practically any situation)

Justin’s review: Swingers is really two movies in one. The first movie answers those deep and probing questions that women have about guys’ lives: what do we think about, what are our motivations, why do we do what we do, etc. The answer to that is, we just like to hang out with buds, try to hook up with the opposite sex, and look cool. Thus, you have comedian Mike (PCU veteran Jon Favreau) and his can’t-lose womanizer friend Trent (Vince Vaughn), going with a rag-tag ensemble (including another PCU vet, Alex Desert) from Hollywood party to Hollywood party. They think they’re cool, even though none of them holds a respectable job, and they can only get women through acting like jerks. Betwixt incidents, they vainly attempt to hold Pulp Fiction-type conversations, but these peter out fast.

In fact, the movie creates one hip phrase that tries to replace “You’re the bomb.” Theirs is, “You’re the money.” It’s cute, and it might’ve worked if they hadn’t said it, oh, 8,500 times during the movie. The film equivalent of your parents saying, “Word up, homeboy!” to you for an entire week.

The other movie revolves around Mike and his six-year failed relationship. He’s a mite bit obsessed with his former girlfriend, and mopes around during the movie telling everyone who’ll listen about his lovelorn state. This is more believable, my friends, because we’ve all been there and done exactly that. There’s some good social commentary on Mike’s whole experience, and fortunately he discovers a new love interest. This is where, after 1 hour and 20 minutes, the title “Swingers” comes into effect. I won’t ruin it for you.

It’s not a bad film, but there’s some serious Quentin Tarantino worship happening here. The conversations are below par (on the QT scale), and the only thing that saves them is a few tongue in cheek references to Reservoir Dogs. They acknowledge that they’re stealing someone else’s ideas in order to be cool, but that really doesn’t make it cool.

For me, the highlight of Swingers came when Mike was talking on the phone (ack, there were some agonizing empathic scenes where I was wincing like crazy) to various people. It’s really where the core of the film lives, and it’s a shame there weren’t more scenes like it.

One final note: I know I’m obsessed with PCU and all, but Jon Favreau’s look and performance in this movie eerily echoes Jeremy Piven at times. Am I the only one who sees this conspiracy?

PoolMan’s rating: I could make a joke about so-and-so out of so-and-so “babies” here, but I’m not that shallow!

PoolMan’s review: I’ll keep this brief (for once). I really liked this movie, although it’s tough to put my finger on why. I think it’s probably because every single scenario that came up in the movie, I’ve been in. If you turned down the testosterone on Trent and the spinelessness on Mike, you have my friend Kyle and I. And the similarities between this movie and life (for me) were so downright weird I just had to laugh it off for fear of going insane. I’ve been that I’m-not-over-my-ex guy before, and I’ve had the nosey pals leaning over my shoulder to get back in the game, and it’s not easy.

This movie just positively oozes cool, though. I LOVE Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, period. I love swing dancing, and parties, and all that good stuff. I’ve been one of the rowdies in front of NHL ’95 before, and I loved it. But so help me, if I heard the word “baby” one more time (closely followed by “money”), I was going to scream. But the basic truth? Thumbs way up. Catch it, live it, love it. Swing baby. Yeah.

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Clare’s rating: {play along at home: insert your own “money”, “beautiful baby” or “bear vs. bunny” metaphor here}

Clare’s review: I’m just going to come right out and say this so it’s been said and I can move on. I love this movie. I guess giving away the ending at the beginning isn’t really any kind of indication of good writing, but when overtaken by greatness, my skills just won’t pay the bills. I saw Swingers for the first time before its dialogue became part of the national lexicon, before the whole swing dancing thing got out of hand and people in Sheboygan started wearing zoot suits and long-assed wallet chains. I got the privilege of seeing it as just a movie. If you strip away all the crap that other people have attached to it, it’s clear that Swingers is just (but not simply) a really well-written, tremendously funny, good-hearted little movie that is so convinced of its own coolness that it won’t be denied. Sure, I’ll admit that their continuity advisor must have been smoking a lot of crack but the boom mikes a-go-go and sudden disappearing props everywhere can actually make for a pretty interesting drinking game. Fortunately, the acting, writing, directing, and over all mirth that oozes from this flick more than makes up for its flurry of technical errors.

Swingers is basically about Mike (Jon Favreau) and how well and/or poorly he’s dealing with being suddenly single in a new and horrifically shallow town, played here convincingly by Los Angeles. He’s been through a nasty break-up and has lost his sense of how awesome he is. Thankfully (kind of) he’s got a bunch of friends who constantly, and as coolly as they can, remind him that if he could just steady himself and regain his sense of greatness he’d have ladies lined up around the block. I think pretty much anyone who’s ever been dumped or ever been unsure of themselves can relate to Mike’s dilemma. Throw on top of this some really honest and hilarious exchanges between practically everyone in every scene, a bunch of unabashedly worshipful classic movie rip-offs and a cast packed to the rafters with talent and you’ve got yourself one hell of an evening. Plus, the soundtrack is unsurpassed.

The thing I found most interesting about Swingers is that it’s the first movie I can remember seeing that acknowledges and puts to use the fact that specific groups of friends have vernaculars that only they use. Because it’s a movie that more than 4 people saw, that specific way of talking became something that lots and lots of groups of friends copied. But again, before the hoopla and the dancing and the hey, hey, hey really took hold, I found it pretty impressive that someone (specifically the writer – Mr. Jon Favreau ladies and gentleman) had the cajones to create a specific way for Mike’s group of guy friends to talk. This made the dialogue feel genuine as opposed to seeming like just a device to propel the story. For a first-time screenwriter, that’s an impressive feat. Plus, it made me more aware of all the tons of specific phrases and sounds my friends and I use as short hand with one another which makes Swingers cooler than your mom. Go see it.

The fact that I still have this poster hanging in my den in no way indicates an inability to let go of the past and age gracefully.

Intermission!

  • Jon Favreau wrote the script based on his own experiences of moving to LA after breaking up with a girlfriend, and how he relied on friends Vince Vaughn and Ron Livingston to pull him out of it. Director Doug Liman shopped the script around to studios and got some interest, but they all balked upon hearing that the writer and his friends would play the main roles, forcing Liman and Favreau to raise the money independently.
  • Because of the low budget, many of the bar and party scenes were shot at actual bars and parties in Hollywood during business hours.
  • Supposedly the “bear” monologue is almost verbatim something Vince Vaughn actually said to Jon Favreau one night, which Favreau liked so much he put it in the film.
  • The two day rule is absolutely true, by the way. That’s not comedic exaggeration; if you don’t wait at least a day to call a girl, you = desperate.
  • Trent’s license plate reads “THX1138”, a reference to one of George Lucas’ films.
  • Swingers is gifted with not one but two of the coolest movie soundtracks ever. I was never a diehard swing fan, but you can’t deny that both discs have a great mix of old and new tunes from Rat Packers, jazz artists, and neo-swing bands. Our wedding party walked out to “Pick Up The Pieces” by Average White Band, and the only thing I miss about my last job is getting to listen to these and other soundtracks all day. You and me and the bottle makes three tonight, baby.

Groovy Quotes

    • Answering Machine: You have to put things in perspective.
    • Mike: I know, I know.
    • Machine: She doesn’t deserve you.
    • Mike: Thanks, I appreciate that.
    • Machine: There are plenty of fish in the sea.
    • Mike: Thanks, that’s great, that’s great advice, thanks a lot, okay? Bye.Trent: They’re gonna give daddy the Rain Man suite, d’you dig that? We’re goin’ to Vegas, Mike, Vegas!
    • Mike: Vegas! You think we’ll get there by midnight?
    • Trent: Honey, we’re gonna be up five hundy by midnight. Vegas! Vegas, baby, Vegas!

Trent: You know, I’m gonna find me two waitresses here and I’m gonna pull me a Fredo.
Mike: Yeah, well they’re all skanks.
Trent: What are you talking about, look at all the beautiful babies here!
Mike: Beautiful babies don’t work midnights to six on a, on a Wednesday. This is the skank shift.

Trent: I want you to remember this face here, okay? This is the guy behind the guy behind the guy.

Trent: There’s nothing wrong with letting the girls know that you’re money and that you want to party.

Trent: Baby, you are so money and you don’t even know it!

Trent: I wish they still had fights in this game so I could bitch-slap Wayne.
Mike: What, you mean they don’t have fighting anymore?
Trent: No, doesn’t that suck?
Mike: Why’d they get rid of the fighting? It was the best part of the old version.
Sue: I think kids were hittin’ each other or somethin’, man.
Trent: Yeah but you know what, Mike? You can make their heads bleed on this one.
Mike: Make somebody’s head bleed.
Sue: No man, we’re in the playoffs.

Trent: See man, you can’t roll with that, she’s business class.
Rob: Business class?
Sue: Big butt, you know, can’t fly coach.

Trent: Now lookit, when you go up to talk to her, man, I don’t want you to be the guy in the PG-13 movie everybody’s really hoping makes it happen. I want you to be like the guy in the rated R movie, you know, the guy you’re not sure whether or not you like yet. You’re not sure where he’s coming from. Okay? You’re a bad man. You’re a bad man, bad man.

Mike: So how long do I wait to call her?
Trent: A day.
Mike: Tomorrow.
Sue: Uh-uh. Tomorrow, then a day.
Mike: So two days.
Trent: Yeah, I guess you could call it that.
Sue: Two days is like industry standard.
Trent: You know, I used to wait two days to call anybody, but now it’s like everyone in town waits two days, so I think three days is kind of money. What do you think?
Sue: Yeah, well but two’s enough not to look anxious.
Trent: Yeah, two’s enough not to look anxious, but I think three days is kind of money.
[Later]
Mike: Well how long are you guys going to wait to call your babies?
Trent, Sue: Six days.

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