1996, R, 108 min. Directed by Doug Liman. Starring Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, Patrick Van Horn, Alex Desert, Heather Graham, Deena Martin.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Nov. 1, 1996
“You're so money and you don't even know it” is the constant refrain that Mike (Favreau) hears from his hipster friends Trent (Vaughn) and Sue (Van Horn) throughout director Doug Liman's feature film debut Swingers. Being money is the thing, baby, and if you're like Trent, you work it in order to get the “beautiful babies.” If you're like Mike, who's still reeling from the breakup with his longtime girlfriend Michelle, you're just too damn depressed to care. I like Mike, and I found myself enjoying Swingers the more it developed these characters. Or I should say, I liked the film in spite of characters like Trent and Sue, who categorize women as either beautiful babies or nasty skanks, a paradigm that begs the question, “Were you abandoned by your mother at an early age?” Mike, on the other hand, is not willing to buy into those beliefs, and once he gets back on his feet and realizes he is money in his own way, he becomes quite an appealing (dare I say sexy?) guy. But Mike's realization is a long time coming, and the bulk of Swingers' narrative focuses on the exploits of these friends -- all aspiring actors or entertainers of some kind -- as they make their way through the L.A. party scene, which includes the subculture of 1940s-style swing clubs and lounges. The well-crafted script (written in two weeks by Favreau for his actor friends) and slick visuals pay homage to swingers both past and present: from the Rat Pack of the 1960s and films like Ocean's Eleven to the current prince of pastiche Quentin Tarantino and Reservoir Dogs. Prefacing a tribute to a particularly iconic Reservoir Dogs sequence is this tongue-in-cheek comment about contemporary filmmakers: “Everyone steals everything from everybody.” But viewers will be pleasantly surprised to see something rare in this film, which is the way that Mike's character experiences his romantic suffering. Rather than take it on the chin, Mike wallows in it, managing to retain viewer sympathy despite some very ill-advised dating decisions that involve the basic standards and practices for calling a woman. There's no question that Mike's the underdog here, and I found myself rooting for him throughout the film. Swingers gets off to a slightly irritating start but segues smoothly into a series of comical and bittersweet plot developments. Favreau himself is no stranger to uphill battles; shedding 90 pounds prior to this film, he liberated himself as an actor from “fat kid” roles such as his appearance in Rudy. Weight issues aside, actor-screenwriter Favreau and director Liman demonstrate with Swingers that they're definitely “money.”