Friday October 18, 1996
Humphrey Bogart putting his arm around Claude Rains at the end of "Casablanca" excepted, the spectacle of guys hanging out with guys is invariably tedious, even to other guys.
Especially to other guys.
So it's a most pleasant shock to experience "Swingers," a guy film that gives you something to latch onto, that makes male bonding both believable and appealing. Ruefully funny and unpretentious, with an air of relaxed and confident hipness, "Swingers" is helped along by a clever script and the not surprising fondness it feels for its characters.
Directed and photographed by Doug Liman for a bargain $250,000, "Swingers" was written by star Jon Favreau to showcase himself and his actor friends. Shot in the clubs and boites of Hollywood after dark, a locale where a bar can't be cool unless it has no sign and is impossible to find, the film's passion for ambience, its use of locations from the Dresden Room to the par-three golf course in Los Feliz, is one of its charms.
More than any other recent film, "Swingers" feels like L.A. now. Here are the parties scheduled for 8 that don't get going till midnight, the spectacle of everyone traveling solo in their cars and locking up with the Club, even a New Beverly repertory schedule taped to a refrigerator. And here are the guys, looking for women and looking a little foolish in the process.
Except for Mike (writer Favreau), who is mourning more than looking. An actor and comic--maybe you caught him hosting open-mike night at the Ha Ha House on Pico--Mike left New York six months ago after a traumatic breakup with Michelle, and he's nowhere near over it.
A storehouse of neurotic impulses, Mike swills in the ale of obsessive self-pity. No situation is too inappropriate, no potential listener too oblivious, for Mike to put on his hangdog look and trot out his morose tale of woe.
Trent, Mike's best friend, decides to snap him out of it. A practiced seducer (played with great comic verve by Vince Vaughn), Trent has apparently dedicated his life to "getting out with the beautiful babies." Women are not keen on sensitivity, he advises Mike; if you want to get anywhere, "you've got to get off this respect kick."
After some amusing misadventures in Las Vegas, where sitting at a $100 minimum table by mistake is the least of their problems, Trent and Mike return to L.A. and hook up with two other pals, a hot-headed video hockey freak named Sue (Patrick Van Horn) and Rob (Ron Livingston), another ex-New York actor agonizing about how much of a comedown from Hamlet taking a part as Goofy would be.
Most of "Swingers" involves hanging out with these guys as they prowl around in search of female phone numbers and argue about callback etiquette before concluding that "two days is the industry standard." Not noticeably enlightened and occasionally infantile, Mike's pals have a saving grace, and that is their genuine concern for their friend, and not just in a beer commercial way. Their desire to help Mike out, to convince him that, to use their slang, "you're so money and you don't even know it," is both touching and genuine.
Casually but pointedly written and acted with easy assurance, "Swingers" also benefits from the hang-loose air that comes from being shot on the fly with a super-light Aaton 35-III camera. It enabled director-cinematographer Liman to work effectively in clubs and pull off genial visual spoofs of key scenes in "Casino" and "Reservoir Dogs."
Confident of its emotional effects, "Swingers" knows how to breathe life into its people, and hooking audiences is its reward.
Swingers, 1996. R, for language throughout. An Alfred Shay production, in association with Independent Pictures released by Miramax Films. Director Doug Liman. Producer Victor Simpkins. Executive producer Cary Woods. Screenplay Jon Favreau. Cinematographer Doug Liman. Editor Stephen Mirrione. Costumes Genevieve Tyrrell. Music Justin Reinhardt. Production design Brad Halvorson. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Jon Favreau as Mike. Vince Vaughn as Trent. Ron Livingston as Rob. Patrick Van Horn as Sue. Alex Desert as Charles. Heather Graham as Lorraine.