Maybe the timing was right or maybe it’s just an incredible movie.
Either way, the movie Swingers probably goes down as one of my all-time favorite movies. Now, I will concede that Swingers tends to be a movie that guys love and girls do not. I can’t blame girls for not liking the movie as women aren’t exactly portrayed in the best light in the movie. Most of the female characters are unlikeable, from the untrustworthy ex-girlfriend Michelle to the cold Nikki to the materialistic girls at the party whose first question is “so, what do you drive?” The only likeable woman in the movie, Lorraine, seems almost too good to be true. Add to that some pretty shallow and manipulative dating tactics by Trent and vulgar language and it’s easy to see why women don’t like the movie.
But for guys, the movie hits a resonance. There is something familiar here. The film’s writer, Jon Favreau, plays the main character, Mike Peters, a comedian who has recently broke up with his girlfriend of six years and had moved from New York to Los Angeles.
In the summer of 1997, I could identify with Mikey quite a bit. Like Mike, I had left a long-term relationship and was trying to start a new life that seemingly had no direction (Mike had moved to Los Angeles looking make it in Hollywood but had been largely unsuccessful. I was in my fourth year of college and graduation was nowhere in sight.) Also, we were both prone to want to spend time alone feeling sorry for ourselves and having a real hard time getting over the past relationship. Thankfully, like Mikey, I had friends who wouldn’t put up with it.
Favreau does an amazing job of covering the slow process from self-pity to self-confidence. Best of all, he does it in scenes that seem altogether too real and almost uncomfortable (when I watch it with guys who are seeing the movie the first time they will uncomfortably shift in their seats and even yell at the TV, “what are you doing???” during the scene where Mike calls Nikki’s answering machine. That’s awkward at it’s finest!) When Mike hits the lowest point of the movie, sitting alone in his apartment on the floor looking at old photographs of him and his girlfriend, we feel his desperation when he says in despair to Rob, “then why won’t she call?” Favreau is brilliant in letting us see such vulnerability in a character in a movie where everyone is trying so hard to appear invulnerable to women.
The movie also captures ironic comedy at it’s finest. The scene at the blackjack table in Vegas shows perfectly why I cannot gather up the guts to play blackjack in a casino! The throwaway line, “Hang on, Voltaire…” is comedic genius. The golf course scene gave me one of my favorite lines to use when I hit a dreadfully short putt. The derivative scene from Reservoir Dogs is obvious and well-played. Every guy has had the discussion about how long to wait to call a girl after getting her phone number. Finally, just as an add-on benefit, the movie captures the underground swing dance scene in LA clubs that was just about to reach mainstream popularity only a year or two later.
Everyone has a friend like Trent (played by Vince Vaughn in probably his best role ever. Nothing he has done since has been remotely as good.) who won’t let you stay home, but drags you out to meet people and get your mind thinking elsewhere. I also had friends like Rob (played by Ron Livingston who made Office Space a cult classic) who had practical advice but were willing to sit and listen to me vent as long as I needed. I had friends like Sue, too, who wouldn’t take my crap and would get in my face and tell me what a whiny pain in the butt I was.
Of course, the film has a happy, if a little unrealistic ending, but ultimately we see Mike rebound from his self-pity and throw aside the old, dead relationship in favor of the potential relationship he sees with Lorraine. (When he cuts off Michelle in mid-sentence on call-waiting, I’ve known many guys watching the movie that audibly cheer!) For guys, this movie is the ultimate guy “chick-flick.” Hollywood has been plumbing the depths of females dealing with romantic relationships in endless romantic comedies, but no movie has captured the relationships that men have with each other in their support network to find romance as well as Swingers. As for me, the timing couldn’t be better but it would still take me a while to convince myself that I was “money” and ready to get back into dating again.