08 April 2022

52 for '22: Swingers

MovieSwingers (1997)
Method: HBOMax

Like the guy in the $4000 suit is going to hold the elevator for the guy who doesn't make that in three months C'MON

Why Did I watch this?

Ohhh....Swingers... I have been meaning to watch Swingers for years. In many ways, it's what this whole 52 for '22 series is all about. It's always been a film that I wanted to watch and thought I might like a lot, but it was just never THE movie to watch that night. So it just burned a hole in my queue forever. And it was in a lot of queues. I'd like to see the streaming history of Swingers. It was on Hulu for the longest time, then Netflix, but I ended up watching it on HBOMax. That was partly because it was leaving this month, but also because it's an easy 96-minute movie to watch on a Wednesday night.

But why was this on my radar in the first place? It was really just understanding the Vince Vaughn backlog, and being able to check out the movie that made everyone. Ironically it wasn't Made (2001) that made them. But everyone is in this, even that girl from The Replacements (2000).

What Did I know ahead of time?

Apparently not all that much. I knew it was Vaughn and Jon Favreau, and by the title and iconic Vaughn-with-a-martini box art I figured it had something to do with some dudes who go party or chase women or whatever. I suppose that turned out to be a pretty spot on assessment. I liked getting into this bromance and start making the connections between PCU (1994), Very Bad Things (1998), Swingers, Made, all the way up to Couples Retreat (2009). It's a little pocket of 90s Hollywood that's fun to explore - never as big as the Carrey / Sandler / Stiller films of their day, but they found their niche.

How Was It?

So much hype. I'm going to say it was...okay. The film centers around Favreau as his sad ass mopes around moving to LA after breaking up with this girlfriend (or she broke up with him, I'm not sure even he knows), and faking it until he's making it in the 90s LA movie scene. All his friends are kind of layabouts doing the same thing, just trying to land the next big role. Trying and failed actors are ubiquitous here, and I did dig the fact that in between not landing roles they just try to party every night.

It's really about chasing women. Vaughn is the master here, and he does get laid (sort of) and snag a number, but the cockiness is what's for show here. This film is about a bunch of dudes trying to prove their worth to other dudes, and Favreau really only has success when he stops being so anxious and opens up - although not TOO open, that's the biggest turn off of all when you're a sad loser.

That probably pulled me the most out of this movie - Favreau plays his character so sad and pathetic that it was tough to watch sometimes. The cringe is really strong, especially in the first half when he's trying so hard to be cool but clearly has no idea what he's doing. Like, they roll into Vegas and he's barking orders at Vaughn to get his act together, but he completely flounders on the table and shows his hand at how much he's out of his league.

And I get that that's the point of this movie. It's about dudes finding their way, almost a coming of age type film (except they're in their mid-20s) but it's also about how much these dudes are trying so hard to be cool and seen and how much the delude themselves. But it's not in a cynical or scolding way. Just in a way that tries to push them to be more self-aware and supplant the self-conscious puffing show with real self-confidence. That's hard to do, especially when you're a dude in your twenties fighting your way in an unforgiving industry. There is a lot chest puffing and little actual help and support.

Some of that got too real for me. As a dude not too far removed from his own mid-twenties, the scenes of them headed to bars, house parties, and diners felt a bit too real for me. And this isn't a party movie. It's not The Hangover (2009) where we're here to see how drunk and rowdy they get. It's a real movie. The parties kind of suck, they don't connect with anyone, they strike out with every woman they talk to, and then the night just kind of ends. It's sad and real and fascinating.

So they go to Vegas and I thought this was going to turn into a Vegas movie. It sort of does. But they lose all their money instantly, are awkward getting breakfast, meet some girls, cry, and go home. It's almost this meta comedy, except it came out way before comedies would create the tropes that Swingers comments on. I don't think it's try to comment at all, it just sort of exists on its own.

I can't help but look forward with a lot of these actors. Ron Livingston would make Office Space (1999) a few years later and has a steady career ever since. Heather Graham would be in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and then launch from there. And Boogie Nights (1997) I guess. That black guy was in Becker. And the other white guy hasn't been in anything. But Vaughn and Favreau are the heart of the movie here and it's bonkers to see where their careers have gone after this movie.

I had forgotten how much shit Favreau had actually been in, since he might be known now more as a director, although he actually hasn't directed all that much. He had Elf (2003), which is a ridiculous second directorial effort - every bit about the staging, costuming, and framing is just so iconic. And then Iron Man (2008) and he was good. There's like Cowboys & Aliens (2011) and a couple Disney remakes in there where I'm sure he just told the animators what to do. I never saw Chef (2014). It's probably good. He might best be known for Star Wars shows at this point, could you ever predict that this dude would be shepherding so much Disney crap 25 years on from this film? He's had one of the biggest hands in all their major properties, Marvel, live-action remakes, and Star Wars at this point. As an actor, he's just been in a ton, although I might say he's far from a recognizable leading man. I will always remember him as Eric the Clown in Seinfeld tho.

It's amazing how much his character is at ease with Livingston here, who plays his friend from back east who just moved out to LA. He's always a little on edge trying to prove himself to Vince Vaughn, and some of the arguing, especially during the scene where they all sit around and play the coolest new video game, NHL '93. But Vince Vaughn is here, and he's so totally Vince Vaughn. He's got that fast talking endless charisma we'd see in Old School (2003) and Wedding Crashers (2005), and when writing this I really forgot how much dramatic work he did to get his start. When you see him in Psycho (1998) and The Cell (2000) some of his more modern work makes sense.

He's just so skinny here, too. His physicality wasn't used to great effect until movies like Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017) and Freaky (2020). But he's incredibly engaging and obviously going to be the breakout star. Add to that Doug Liman, who would go on to be a primarily action director, notably with The Bourne Identity (2001). I find it super weird that he did Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) and Jumper (2008) instead of the sequels, which were instead directed by Paul Greengrass. Someone do a deep dive as to how that happened.

So in the end, Swingers is pretty okay. It looks incredible for the fact that it was shot for nothing, it serves as a blatant ode to 90s cultural moments like Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Goodfellas (1990), and stars everyone you want in a movie. But it's also one of the realest movies ever, and not in a boring or pretentious way.

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