Swingers (1996)

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Wannabe actors become regulars in the stylish neo-lounge scene; Trent teaches his friend Mike the unwritten rules of the scene.

Jon Favreau is a jack of all trades, successfully accomplishing a vast collection of credits across directing, producing, writing and acting. Many of us will remember him from his stint in Seinfeld or Friends, or maybe more recently in the excellent drama Chef in which he wrote, starred and directed, and perhaps some will know him as the man who produces and directs the blockbuster Iron Man franchise. Whatever the case, it is in this film, Swingers, that he and many of the cast starring in this comedy, got their ‘big break’.

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Swingers oozes similarities to most groups of guys, and yet this seems well before its time. By in large, everything up until this point had either been about the kids/teenagers (Dazed & Confused), or adults in relationships (take your pick), or buddy comedies so far the other way that they barely resembled real life (Waynes World). As far as I’m aware, nobody had looked at the male dynamic in this way before. Swingers takes a group of struggling actors/stand up comedians, each one seemingly normal, but all looking for women, and turns it into a comedy. It’s a premise that doesn’t take a lot of imagination to pull off, but the result is something much better than predicted.

The group has everyone you would come to expect; the guy who can’t get over a break up (Jon Favreau), the guy who can get any girl he wants (Vince Vaughn), the guy who thinks he’s a bit tough (Patrick Van Horn), the cool guy who hates everywhere he goes (Alex Desert) and the sensible one who seems a bit wet but is a solid choice if you’re after advice (Ron Livingston). These are fairly standard characters for any group of males, but what takes it beyond a clichéd lad-pack of sexist pigs and rude jokes (although there are elements of racism/homophobia/sexism – chalk it up to the mid 90’s?), are the brief moments of human emotion beyond the bravado that allow you to connect with their characters.

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Much like the modern day buddy comedies like The Inbetweeners, this group have their own set of  phrases and lingo they use with each other, they have their computer games they play and they have their idea of what a night out should consist of. Everything is ‘Money’, women are ‘Pretty Babies’, Vegas is announced as ‘Vegas baby!’, NHL on the Sega is the game of choice, and cool underground bars where you need to enter via the kitchen and all they play is swing music are the only bars you want to be seen in. Everything else is dead.

Similarly, they have their own way of picking up women and some are more successful than others. Outside of their boyish humour, herein lies a lot of the humour of the film. While the film itself is titled ‘Swingers’, it is not about ‘swinging’ in a sex way (the swing comes from the music they listen to), that is not their method of succeeding with the opposite sex. Instead, we see a string of awkward advances, poorly executed phone calls and questionable tactics at the hands of the more confident ones, which need to be laughed off rather than scoured at. It is not dependent on cringeworthy humour, it is too fast paced for that and the script is far too clever to rely on such a cheap pop, but it has its moments.

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With the back and forth between the group being so on point, spliced with enough vulnerability shown by the key characters, it created a believable and convincing portrayal of this group of men that would have raised the question “Are men really like this?“, and it still applies now. It isn’t the most creative of films, but then it doesn’t need to be. Disregard the phrases, one-liners, the dodgy shirts, the gangster personas and the pick-up action, despite it all being highly quotable and very funny, the best thing about the film is the dynamic between this group of guys as a whole.

It almost becomes a support network; always embracing, forever understanding, sometimes arguing, day-dreaming is encouraged, but eventually you all live in the same reality – so you might as well make it enjoyable for each other.

Swingers is available on Netflix.

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3 responses to “Swingers (1996)

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