Sunday, March 18, 2012

Day 109: Swingers

"They're gonna give daddy the Rain Man suite, you dig that?"

Movies have always had the power to influence trends in fashion & music. A lot of my friends were heavily influenced by movies like Wayne's World & Clueless, but for me it was Swingers that changed the way I dressed, the music I listened to, and the way I talked. I got totally caught up in it, wearing a huge chain attached to my wallet & bowling shirts, listening to bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Squirrel Nut Zippers & Cherry Poppin' Daddies, and referring to things as "money." It seems obnoxious in retrospect, but I swear I wasn't the only one; Others were complicit in this behavior.

It's been the better part of a decade since I've actually sat down and watched the film from beginning to end, and I'm happy to say that in spite of a few nineties hallmarks like the gigantic cordless phones, the film holds up incredibly well. For those that have never seen it, Swingers tells the story of Mikey (Jon Favreau, who also wrote the script), a comedian & actor who has just moved to LA, having broken up with his girlfriend of six years. He relies on his friends like fellow NY transplant Rob (Ron Livingston) & Trent (Vince Vaughn) to help him soldier on and get back into the social scene and dating world. The film then chronicles several weeks in their lives as they attend various parties, nightclubs & the like, in search of women. That's basically it, plot-wise, there's obviously more going on in the subtext of it all, and the film is ultimately Mikey's quest to either get back with or get over his ex with the help of his friends.

Doug Liman directed & shot the film, and while there's nothing particularly revolutionary in its low-budget aesthetic, it does flow nicely, and a lot of his lo-fi techniques, such as using a wheelchair for a dolly shot through a casino, have been aped by no-less filmmakers than yours truly. The script is great, it has tons of truthful dialogue that sounds very real, but is also firmly rooted in fiction. In other words, you don't think that you're actually watching a documentary per se, but you know that the dialogue has the verisimilitude to sound like the way that people actually talk to one another.

The cast is great, top to bottom, with Favreau being another great character actor so dissatisfied with the role he was getting offered that he wrote himself a great starring role, and he truly shines in it. The supporting cast is full of great small parts like Alex Desert's Charles & Heather Graham's Lorraine (by the way, how hot was Heather Graham in the mid-90s, seriously). There are also tons of great bit players like the woman at the party in the hills that asks Mike what kind of car he drives, and the dealer and the $100 minimum Blackjack table. It's one of those cases where casting the best people in the smallest roles gives the entire world of the film a much better feel, and makes the film that much better as a result.

In spite of all the glowing things that I've said about the rest of the cast and the script, I would be remiss if I did not at least entertain the notion that this movie might in fact be a one-man show, and that one man would be Vince Vaughn. Vaughn skyrocketed to stardom after this film, and it's not hard to see why. He is a machine, firing off one-liners and radiating charisma, it's the kind of performance you can look back in retrospect and very clearly see why he became a star as a result. His ease on screen is almost preternatural, and while he doesn't have all of the best lines, he's got about 95% of them. It reminds me of Matthew McConaughey in Dazed & Confused or Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, this was the birth of a star, and while he's made questionable film choices since this film (actually the same can be applied to all three of these gentlemen), when you go back and watch their big debut, it's easy to see why they became who they became.

Swingers is just a great little movie. It's genuinely funny and sweet, and it can be enjoyed by just about everyone. While I personally like Favreau & Vaughn's second collaboration together, Made, much better, this is a much more accessible film for everyone. It's the kind of thing that you could watch with your mom and you'd both end up having a good time. Plus they use Heart's "Magic Man" on the soundtrack. Tell me that doesn't give it serious street cred. And no, I'm not joking.

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