Film Revisited: “Swingers” – 1996

“You’re so money…and you don’t even know it!”

So goes the mission statement from Doug Liman’s 1996 hit comedy-drama, Swingers. Set during the Swing music Revival in 1990s Los Angeles, the film follows a group of struggling, twenty-something actors as they try to fit in and find their feet in a socially resurgent L.A.

mv5bndk1nty4njmyof5bml5banbnxkftztcwmda1mdcxmq-_v1_Swingers is a movie that smoulders from the outset. Heady snapshots from the jazz and swing bars of the Revival are tied to the dulcet tones of Dean Martin. The viewer is showered with a nostalgic yearning for a nightlife long passed, or one they never even knew existed.

The main action centers around the bromance of Trent (Vince Vaughn) and Mikey (Jon Favreau), with Trent making it his personal mission to pull his friend out of the heartbroken rut that he’s fallen into, get him back out there and start acting “money” – which basically means be confident, cool or, in today’s terms, totally swagalicious.

The film throws us an historical snapshot of a revitalised Los Angeles; a city not long out of recovery after the debilitating race riots of the early 90s. Trent and Mike offered proof that here was a city determined to make its comeback.

The trials and thrills of these two men make the viewer smile with glee, with Favreau and Vaughn’s energy drawing in a colourful mish-mash of supporting characters. Its very own Rat Pack. What about Sue, who calls every guy he meets a “bitch”? Or the deadpan Charles: a fellow so hard to please you’d daren’t take him to any party – “Man, this place is dead anyway”.

Swingers Vince VaughnOther 90s movies that employed this dynamic-duo and trickle-down interplay are still, today, firm fan favourites. Think of Kevin Smith’s Clerks or Mallrats; two classic indie standouts.

Swingers is certainly of its era, with instances of quick-fire dialogue, snappy suits and even a sly, slow motion ensemble walk – all paying homage to Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs alike. It enjoys the luxury of being a well received critical and commercial success, while still acting as a cinematic landmark for indie rebels to cherish.

Central to all of this is the unflappably confident Trent; a young man keen to meet all the “pretty babies” that the hazy and smoky Los Angeles nightlife allows him.

When Vince Vaughn is onscreen in this movie he is simply on form. Gaunt, thin and boyishly handsome, his character is full of enthusiasm for life and for living. And women, too.

Seeing Vaughn this young would put you in mind of that guy at school who just couldn’t be quiet, who relished the attention and someone whom, if you’re being honest, you just couldn’t get enough of. Fans of Wedding Crashers will recognise this ‘gift of the gab’ style, with the words and the anecdotes and the advice flowing forth freely, frequently and very, very funnily.

mv5bmty2ndk0nty4ov5bml5banbnxkftztcwmjgwodyyng-_v1_Vaughn’s outlandish rogue is a stark contrast to Favreau’s reserved protagonist, Mikey. We are privy to his angst, woe, heartbreak and touching shyness. It’s a study in the struggles of being an all round good guy, trying to figure out where it all went wrong.

And that’s pretty much what he tells a sympathetic Vegas cocktail waitress whom he decides, not to bed, but to share a cuppa with instead. Wingman Trent is distraught as his own bae leaves his side in pursuit of the girly gossip: “I’ll make us some coffee!”, she declares.

Redemption comes in yet another bar when, after plucking up the courage to speak to a woman, Mikey, the big legend, finally seals the deal and walks away with her number. But what’s the follow-up etiquette? How long to wait before giving her a call? “Six days”, the guys unanimously chirp. Sex and the City has nothing on this.

Impressively, Mikey manages to stick to the Rule of Six… except that he phones her that night, six times, leaving six answering machine messages. Remarkably, he still gets a reply: “Mike, this is Nikki… don’t ever call me again”. Ouch.

Favreau is a talented writer and director in his own right. He’s much, much more than the schlub played in outings such Four Christmases and Couple’s Retreat. In Swingers he provides us with a highly memorable acting performance, along with the writing and producing credit to boot.

Another tick on the report card is the mighty musical presence of Swingers. There are scene transitions full of liberating jazz, and sultry saxophones that just won’t quit.

As the sun goes down the camera neatly covers the movers and groovers while the Big Bands keep the sweat pouring and the whiskey talkin’. But be warned: the force is strong in this one. After watching Swingers you’ll want to pick up a trumpet, light a cigar and hoke out your grubby, old white vest.

If you really wanted to offer a criticism of the film you could look at its portrayal of women. They are there to be chased, chatted up and are presented as being separate and apart. Heather Graham, though, is refreshingly presented as more of an equal contender. Her natural innocence and visible chemistry with Jon Favreau causes welcome sighs of relief when Mikey finally moves on with his life.

Away from the beer, jazz and razzmatazz there are plenty of reflective and emotional asides scattered throughout the piece. Mikey, bitterly struggling to get over the disintegration of a long-term relationship, is offered some sage advice in the ubiquitous diner-booth by friend Rob: “I mean at first you’re going to pretend to forget about her, you’ll not call her. I don’t know, whatever… But then eventually, you really will forget about her”.

mv5botgymza3ody5ml5bml5banbnxkftztcwmtgwodyyng-_v1_It’s this kind poignancy that gives Swingers its heart and exactly why it’s loved so dearly by its fans.

Sure, this comedy-drama is short in the way of punch lines and big, bold barrel laughs, but that’s the point. Swingers is poignant, relaxed and remarkable in its ability to make its audience smile, whilst still ensuring you care about its characters.

Nothing actually happens in this film, really. But that’s more than okay. Bar hopping, smooth walking and hip talking are probably three of the main ingredients that glue this film together to make it an effortlessly cool experience.

So, stick it on your bucket list and, if it appears in front of you sometime, remember to just “act money” and swing with it. Although try not to make the mistake of searching the hashtag on Twitter the next time it’s on T.V.