January 10, 2013

Swingers (1996)
Starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn

Comments:   Swingers is such a fun little movie.  It is one of those movies that came out of nowhere, everyone who saw it at the time loved it, it quickly developed a reputation as being one of the best and most memorable movies of its generation, and then for whatever reason it just sort of vanished.  I can't tell you how many people I have talked to over the past few years who have never even heard of it.

I'm serious.  I have a friend who, well, I would like to call a pretentious douchy film guy.  He won't watch any movie that was a mainstream hit or that made a lot of money.  He takes film studies classes in college and he will only watch independent films or movies that are slow, boring, artsy, and douchy.  As you can guess, he and I don't share a lot of favorite movies.  In fact, it is really best if we don't talk about movies at all.  He would rather shoot himself in the head than watch something like The Hand That Rocks The Cradle.

Well my friend is a few years younger than me, and he was asking me if I knew of any good independent films from the 90's that I could recommend.  And I immediately named one of the best ones I could think of:  Swingers.  I told him that Swingers was considered a rival to Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs in its day, and it probably still has a huge legion of fans out there.  And that I felt stupid even mentioning it to him since he is Mister Independent Film and because I'm sure he must already know Swingers and be able to quote it inside and out.

And I was shocked that my friend, Mister Film Studies, Mister I Love All Independent Movies Everywhere, had never even heard of Swingers.  Seriously.  Had never even heard of it.  I might as well have been talking about a movie from 1904.

The minute I realized that Swingers has essentially been lost to an entire generation of movie fans, I knew that I had to write about it.

Swingers is the story of a guy named Mikey (Jon Favreau), who is a struggling comedian in Hollywood.  And, well, let's just say that his life isn't going very well.  He can't get a job.  He doesn't have any money.  He lives in the tiniest little shithole L.A. apartment.  He has no self confidence whatsoever.  And then to make matters worse, his girlfriend just dumped him.

And really, that is the whole movie.

Mikey is bummed.  Mikey is down in the dumps.  And the entire rest of the movie is Mikey's friends trying to get him back on his feet again and get his self confidence back.

And the only way to do that is to take him out on the town and try to hook up with some beautiful babies.

Mikey (left) and his buddies

Even though it sounds predictable and mundane, Swingers is one of those movies that is just about as perfect as I think a movie can get.  The writing, the acting, the characters, the dialogue, it is just perfect.  I just watched it recently and I was surprised at how well it holds up.  It doesn't seem old or annoying or cliched or dated at all.  If Swingers came out today, I have no doubt it would be a monster hit.  People would be quoting it and obsessing about it and rewatching it for months.  Which, hey, is exactly what happened when it first came out in 1996.  That is why I am so surprised that it has sort of been glossed over by the passage of time.

This is one of those movies that is so unique, and is so memorable, and has so much unforgettable dialogue and great writing, that when you finish watching it you just start speaking in "Swingers" language.  You find yourself speaking like the characters in the movie.  And I can think of very few movies that can immerse you in the world and the language of the characters that deeply.  Fargo is the only other movie of its era that I think comes anywhere near it.  In fact (because of the writing and the dialogue) I would put Swingers right up next to Fargo as two of the best movies of the 90's.

Even mundane scenes like guys sitting around playing video games are hilarious and memorable

Swingers was written by Jon Favreau (in his writing debut), and what is amazing when you read up about it is that he wrote the entire screenplay in only two weeks.  Two weeks!  Seriously, watch this movie, listen to how realistic and true the writing and the dialogue is, and keep in mind that this was a first time effort that was written in 14 days.  That is just absolutely amazing.  It is no wonder that it was so beloved and so acclaimed for its time.  It is no wonder that Jon Favreau is still a writer and director even today.  I mean, watch the scene in Swingers where the characters sit around and bag on the fact that Martin Scorcese and Quentin Tarantino are thieves and they just steal shots from other movies.  And then watch how, five minutes later, Swingers does the exact same thing by completely ripping off shots from Goodfellas and Reservoir Dogs (which of course were made by Scorcese and Tarantino).  That is a clever movie.

Swingers famously ripping off Reservoir Dogs

Not only was this Jon Favreau's writing debut, it also marked the movie debut (at least the starring debut) of Vince Vaughn.  Vaughn shows up out of nowhere as "Double Down" Trent, Mikey's best friend, and he completely steals the entire movie.  It is absolutely one of the best movie debuts I can ever think of for an actor.  Vaughn shows up and he is just fucking money, he owns every single minute he is ever on screen.

In fact, when I watch Swingers now, it almost makes me sad to see how amazing Vince Vaughn was in his debut, and then how much he has pretty much sleepwalked through every role he has had ever since.  You watch most of Vince Vaughn's stuff now, and then you go back and watch him in Swingers, and you can barely even tell it was the same guy.  He is really that good in it.  In fact, when I watch Swingers now, I understand why they cast Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates in the remake of Psycho.  He really did have that kind of promise back then.

The star of the show.  Double Down Trent was the original Barney Stinson

In short, if you want a hilarious, quotable, memorable, nearly flawless little movie, Swingers is about as good as you are going to get.  The acting and writing and the dialogue are just incredible.  In fact I don't think I have ever met a person in my life who has seen Swingers and who didn't like it.  Even though you will read reviews of how "it's a guy movie" and "only guys will like it", I can tell you for a fact that my wife loves it.  In fact she probably loves it even more than I do.  She loves the fact that these guys think they are such cool badasses but all they are is dorks who can't get a girl.   She loves the entire dichotomy between guys who think they are cool and guys who really aren't cool.   And that, my friends, is the magic of Swingers in a nutshell.

By the way, I just asked my wife Diana, and here is her review of Swingers in ten words:  "Poor Mikey, you just want to give him a hug."

Mikey striking out with yet another woman

By the way, before I sign off, I have to add one last thing.  There is one scene in Swingers (the infamous answering machine scene) that is just about as painful and awkward a scene as I have ever seen in a movie.  There is no way you can watch it and not find yourself squirming in your seat.  It is that painful.  Trust me, it is the ONE scene that everyone remembers from Swingers and the one scene that you will remember for weeks afterward.   There may never be another scene in movie history that straddles the line between funny and awkward as well as the scene where Mikey screws up the answering machine game with Nikki in Swingers.  Trust me, you will know it when you see it.  

And then you will email me and thank me for recommending this movie to you.

Obligatory Swingers reference

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Swingers

A Must-See for All 20-Something Males - 5 January 2004
Let me preface this review by saying that this is my favorite film of all time. I'm not saying it was the best, most artistic, original, or most innovative...but it is my favorite. It's a movie about a 20-something man getting over a nasty break-up, living in Los Angeles. Pretty simple stuff, but the honesty in the film is amazing. This film boasts the most realistic, and interesting depictions of male friendship I've ever seen. Some might simply pawn this movie off as a buddy flick, but it goes so much deeper than that. Mikey (Favreau) deals with insecurity, rejection, depression, an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. Something almost everyone can relate to. And, as an audience member, you live and die with the poor guy. The supporting cast is very strong, popping in and out as the assortment of friends populating Mikey's social life. Each is trying, in his own way, to get their buddy out of his post-break up funk, which meet with varying degrees of success. Swingers is chock full of laugh-out-loud moments, and oft-quoted lines ("Our baby's all grows up!") that could very easily lead to repeated viewings of this masterpiece.

Everything I love about independent film - 15 January 2009
Swingers is one of my favorites of all-time, and the first movie I actually purchased on DVD, and I hold it dear to this day.

What "Sex and the City" has done for women as far as expressing the underlying feminine reality of modern day city gals, "Swingers" does the same for men and maybe even exceeds these myths.

It provides a certain truth about what it is that guys do when being guys and what it is that guys think about for that matter when not drooling over a half-naked female in a halter top and leather pants ensemble at some trendy hot-spot on Melrose.

The script is top notch, all of the comedy plays, and as far as acting is concerned; all of the characters in the movie are late 20 something guys looking to become future actors in Hollywood (ironic, eh?), and they are outstanding.

The flick is well written, well acted, well done and clever as can be, but best of all, it is absolutely horrible shot. Probably one of the worst shot films in the history of the medium. And thats it's most charming attribute. 70% of it is out of focus, and the other 30% is mis- framed, yet the editing is so genius, and the characters are so entertaining, that the storytelling overrides all of the formal inadequacies.

And that's what independent film is all about; find a great story, try to tell it in a unique and interesting manner, f*ck it up a bunch along the way, and if it's truly good enough, let it stand on it's own two feet.

I applaud this movie's existence.

As enjoyable as any film in recent memory. - 24 November 1999
I think a few of the readers who have commented on this film seem to be missing the point. While it can be said that this movie has no plot to speak of and no central point to it, my response is: so what? Not every movie is made to teach you how to live your life. Some of us can watch a movie simply for the pure enjoyment of listening to characters interact. Swingers does a better job of achieving this than the majority of movies ever made. Anybody can make Godzilla or Independence Day, but it takes a truly special movie to become a "cult hit" with nothing more at it's disposal than no-name actors (at the time) and catchy dialogue. This movie was the springboard for virtually every actor in it, with each going on to more well known parts.

Ok, enough preaching, pure and simple this movie is great. Vince Vaughn's character is one of the most likable characters you'll see in a movie. Even if you have nothing in common with someone like him, you can't help but like him. He's hilarious, smooth, and a loyal friend, and he has some of the most quotable lines in the movie. Everyone else on this site has quoted it time and again, so no need for me to, but let's just say it's funny stuff. John Favreau's character, Mikey, makes you laugh while at the same time wanting to slap him for being so stupid. There's so many funny scenes in this movie, I can't even begin to describe them. But the best by far always involve Vaughn, and the part where he's in the trailer describing his experience auditioning for a pilot is classic. You know he's feeding the girls a line the whole time, but it's so convincing and everyone is so in awe of him, it's hysterical. And when Mikey tries to act cool in front of the waitresses they meet, and fails to do so, only to see Trent tell them he's a producer and watch them swoon, I can't see how people don't find that funny.

Anyways, if you haven't seen this movie yet, do yourself a favor and go rent it. The buildup offered on this site is only a fraction of what you'll actually get out of watching it. 10+/10

Should be in the top 100 - 30 September 2006
I can not fathom why this movie is not in any of the Top Movies list. At the very least this stands as the greatest "guy" movie I've ever seen. Hollywood loves to churn out those "hey, we're regular guys just like you!" movies, but they rarely work. The jokes are contrived, the chemistry is forced, the characters remind me of no one that I know in my life, and the dialogue is written by middle-aged men. People in their 20's are supposed to relate to that?? This movie worked because these guys really WERE friends and, essentially, filmed their lives. Would Jerry Bruckheimer have thought to include the immortal "NHL 95" scene? Of course not. Could any writer that was not in their 20's give us so many quotable lines? I was 20 when this film was released and it instantly went into my HOF. Not to sound corny, but there are very few films that I feel connected to. "Swingers" is one. Aside from the laughs, this film is extremely intelligent at times. Rob's advice to Mikey remains one of the most poignant monologues I have seen in any film. Luckily for us, Favreau was smart enough to deliver a movie that can cut to the core of a problem that every guy will experience at some point in his life without trying to get too preachy or sentimental. I hope to see "Swingers" break into that top movies list soon.

It's so F**KIN' MONEY! I don't even think it knows it... - 11 November 1998
When this movie came out in theatres, I was there opening night. When it showed up at my video store, I rented it that Friday. I continued to rent it at least once a month for every month thereafter, and when my Blockbuster-employed friend informed me that it would soon be available at a take-home price, well, you're damn straight that I bugged him until the damn thing went on sale. This is quite simply my favorite movie ever. Better than ANYTHING, swear to God. Not only is it just a really, REALLY money movie with many, MANY cool scenes, but I can also rattle on to my friends and even conduct entire conversations with my friends with dialogue directly from this movie and they have NO clue what language I'm speaking. Especially creepy are the video game hockey scenes...it's like looking into a mirror of swing. Really though, Liman, Favreau, Vaughn, everyone outdid themselves on this one with dry, convincing performances, incredible writing and just a really hip ambiance. See this movie or consider yourself business class.

Funny Funny. - 22 February 2002
Every aspect of the movie hits the mark. This movie doesn't strive to be cool. The joke is the way the characters in the movie consider themselves to be men about town. They're just guys with no idea trying to score but always believing that as a group they're something akin to the rat pack. Witness the entrance to the party where the boys stand in the entrance way and the crowd turns and looks at them briefly before going back to ignoring them.  

A True Hidden Gem - 15 January 2001
This is perhaps the most honest, humorous and insightful movie ever made about 20-something men and relationships. In spite of a low profile during it's cinematic run, Swingers has reached the status of cult classic, and deservedly so. The story centers on a fledgling actor - portrayed flawlessly by John Favreau - who is still trying to cope with the pain of a not-so-recent breakup. Vince Vaughn is outstanding as the best friend determined to build his confidence and get him back in the game. But perhaps the most enduring part of this movie are the phrases that will forever be in the lexicon of all who have had the pleasure of watching this wonderfully scripted film ("You're so money baby, and you don't even know it!). Even the soundtrack was superior - so much so that it warranted a second album of music from and inspired by the movie. Favreau, who also wrote and produced, has firmly established himself as a capable film maker.

* My favorite quotes from Swingers:
So many to pick from.  This is probably the most quotable movie I have written about so far on my countdown.

[Trent talks a girl into meeting them later and bringing a friend]
Mikey: That was so fucking money. That was like the Jedi mind-shit.

[Giving Mikey advice on how to meet women]
Trent: You know what you are? You're like a big bear with claws and with fangs...
Sue: ...big fucking teeth, man.
Trent: Yeah... big fuckin' teeth on ya. And she's just like this little bunny, who's just kinda cowering in the corner.
Sue: Shivering.
Trent: Yeah, man just kinda... you know, you got these claws and you're staring at these claws and your thinking to yourself, and with these claws you're thinking, "How am I supposed to kill this bunny, how am I supposed to kill this bunny?"
Sue: And you're poking at it, you're poking at it...
Trent: Yeah, you're not hurting it. You're just kinda gently batting the bunny around, you know what I mean? And the bunny's scared Mike, the bunny's scared of you, shivering.
Sue: And you got these fucking claws and these fangs...
Trent: And you got these fucking claws and these fangs, man! And you're looking at your claws and you're looking at your fangs. And you're thinking to yourself, you don't know what to do, man. "I don't know how to kill the bunny." With *this* you don't know how to kill the bunny, do you know what I mean?
Sue: You're like a big bear, man.
Mikey: So you're not just like fucking with me?
Trent: No I'm not fucking with you.
Sue: Honestly, man.

Trent: I don't want you to be the guy in the PG-13 movie everyone'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, Mikey. You're a bad man, bad man.

[The guys discuss how long you wait before you call a girl on the phone]
Mikey: So how long do I wait to call?
Trent: A day.
Mikey: Tomorrow.
Sue: Tomorrow, then a day.
Trent: Yeah.
Mikey: So two days?
Trent: Yeah, I guess you could call it that, two days.
Sue: Definitely, 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, 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. You know because you...
Mikey: Yeah, but you know what, mabey I'll wait 3 weeks. How's that? And tell her I was cleaning out my wallet and I just happened to run into her number.
Charles: Then ask her where you met her.
Mikey: Yeah, I'll ask her where I met her. I don't remember. What does she look like? And then I'll asked if we fucked. Is that... would that be... T, would that be the money?
Trent: You know what. Ha ha ha Mike, laugh all you want but if you call too soon you might scare off a nice baby who's ready to party.
Mikey: Well how long are you guys gonna wait to call your babies?
Trent, Sue: Six days.

* My favorite scene in Swingers:

The answering machine scene.  The answering machine scene.  Good lord in heaven almighty, the answering machine scene.

Swingers at the IMDB

Swingers at Wikipedia

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