Swingers: Special Edition Review

In my experience, women really are from Venus.

Make no mistake - the female species is a complex creation. Intelligent, unpredictable, even cunning at times; it’s practically impossible for men to understand their needs, or make them happy. Which is why trying to flirt with the opposite sex is treated like a sport by some. For me, the whole affair of talking to women becomes an intricate art, with its own pre-set rules. Naturally, my attempts to succeed usually blind my judgement, and on most occasions, I make an ass of myself. It has become a weekly ritual, often ending in drunken disaster. So I turn to cinema for the answer - is there a movie out there, that can put my feelings into perspective?

Thankfully, there is. The lounge-lifestyle is dissected to wonderful effect in Doug Liman’s effortlessly hip Swingers; an instant cult sensation upon its release in 1996. Scooped-up by Miramax for a cool $5 million, it propelled stars Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn into the limelight, and became a rental favourite for the infamous Generation X. Its theatre gross was only modest, but word of mouth has transformed Swingers into a bona-fide classic. It has developed a solid reputation, and 9 years later, it holds up surprisingly well.

The reason is simple: Swingers is a remarkably honest portrayal of male-female relationships, friendship, and the Hollywood club scene. “Cool” is also a phrase I’ll be using frequently.

Swingers is the story of hapless, out-of-work actor/comedian Mike (Favreau). A sorry soul, Mike has just moved to LA, ending a six-year relationship with the love of his life. Such experience has left him rather bitter, and his attempts to get back on the horse have fallen flat. Therefore, his best friend Trent (Vaughn) whisks him away to Las Vegas (“Vegas baby! Vegas!”), on the hunt for beautiful women and exciting night life. Unsurprisingly, Mike’s constant moping screws the pooch, and the pair trudge back to LA. But the wild Trent won’t be deterred. With fellow “swingers” Sue (Patrick Van Horn), Rob (Ron Livingston) and Charles (Alex Desert), the group are determined to find that elusive “perfect party”, and give Mike the night of his life...

Favreau made his screenwriting debut with Swingers, and his work is some of the finest in modern comedy; boasting full-blooded characterisation, and a deep understanding of the dating game. Naturally, the old advice “write what you know”, was adopted by the comedian, since Swingers beats with a knowing pulse. Favreau put many of his real-life experiences into the script, and for much of the running time, Liman’s film screams with a sense of authenticity. It depicts events that are sadly familiar - we’ve all been here (women too, who are represented by the beautiful Deena Martin, and a young Heather Graham). Throwing out a conventional plot, Favreau concentrates only on the characters, and since he went through the same problems as Mike, the affair becomes fascinating to watch.

In most respects, Favreau and Vaughn have never been better (not even when they re-teamed for the bigger-budget Made). Fav is note-perfect as Mike, getting the audience on his side. He’s utterly convincing in a role that closely resembles his time as a struggling and depressed actor. Livingston, Desert and Van Horn are also given fine roles, wringing every last ounce of nuance from Favreau’s script. Yet, it’s Vaughn that leaves the greatest impression, in this star-making performance. As Trent, he’s a constant ball of energy, making you love a character that you’d resent in reality. But there’s more to Liman’s concoction than sparkling performances...

Swingers succeeds for a variety of reasons, but the main points are easily defined:

1) The Dialogue

Favreau used his knowledge of the LA club scene to great effect here, with his on-the-pulse approach to conversation. The characters believe they are cooler than they actually are, and because of that, the script has a specific lingo that perfectly encapsulates 1990’s Hollywood (and youth culture, for that matter). Trent refers to women as “babies”, and phone numbers are “digits”. But the most famous element of Swingers is their use of the word “money” instead of cool. “That’s so money”. “You’re money, and you don’t even know it”. It’s perfectly in keeping with the world Favreau has presented - Hollywood is obsessed with the all-mighty dollar, and since the characters are chasing wealth, their use of the term is appropriate. Plus, it sounds cool. Right?

2) Los Angeles

Most of the locations featured in Swingers are real, and were filmed during business hours - helping to give it that added boost of reality. And since the world these character’s inhabit is centred solely on clubs, bars and renowned watering holes, the locations are important, no? In fact they are characters in their own right - one place is so cool and “exclusive”, that the entrance is found in a back-alley, with no sign above the door. There’s also a Rat Pack vibe creeping into every frame, with Frank Sinatra-themed clubs, and jazz venues. Plus, LA perfectly sums-up Mike’s friends - cool and sleek on the outside, but terribly shallow inside.

And finally, The Nature of Friendship

We follow Mike from beginning to end, and his prat-falls are often heart-wrenching. His attempts to get over his doomed relationship make us care for the character, especially since many of us will recognise ourselves. The opening trip to Vegas perfectly establishes who Mike is (and to a lesser-degree, Trent too). Socially-dislocated, he finds it hard to fit into the casino atmosphere, especially since he only possesses $300, which he quickly loses in spectacular fashion. He’s a contrast to Trent - a sharp-talking dark horse, whose only concern, other than showing Mike a “good” time, is to score with the ladies. But the film never becomes misogynist, and the women are presented in a flattering light. After all, they are the only ones who understand Mike’s pain. His friends think “getting laid” is the answer. And let’s face it, we all know someone like Trent...

While the short-lived stint in Vegas offers plenty of quotable dialogue, the best sequence is easily the most tragic. After claiming a woman’s number, Mike proceeds to go home, where he picks up the phone...with disastrous results. After leaving what seems like an endless number of messages on her machine - each one getting progressively worse - he destroys whatever opportunity he had. It’s a moment of pathos-ridden hilarity; both funny and genuinely sad. Thankfully, he finally breaks free of his mental torture in the final reel, in a wonderful sequence with Heather Graham. Is there a lesson to be learnt? Be yourself. Relax. Roll-with the-punches. If Mike had been willing to let go of the past earlier, his life would have been easier. To see Mike finally smile, is a cause for celebration.

Beautifully shot by Liman (for a mere $250,000), Swingers is an ultra-cool, ultra-hip and ultra-sassy picture, that offers more than you’d expect. Wrapping life lessons into an irresistible brew, it will appeal to anyone who appreciates intelligent comedy. For 20-somethings, it’s a cinematic Bible of do’s and don’ts, and a serious contender for the best buddy comedy of the 90’s. What you’ve heard is true - Swingers is quite simply “money”...

The Discs

Available on Region 1 for quite a while, we finally get our Special Edition of Liman’s celebrated comedy. British fans have been clamouring for a decent disc of Swingers for ages, so it’s great to see those brilliant features ported over. With a “beautiful baby” transfer thrown in, Pathe’s two-disc set is one DVD you’ll want to “double-down” on...

The Look and Sound

Swingers may have been shot on the cheap, but you’d never know that from the wonderful anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer. In fact, it handles Liman’s photography so well, you’d swear the movie cost a whole lot more. The rough, from-the-hip camerawork looks great - the image has plenty of detail, and the colours are fairly rich - the bright lights in the Vegas sequence stand-out stronger then ever. Even the blacks have some depth, for the frequent night-time shots. Grain is inevitable (especially in those darkened bar scenes), and certain segments have a soft hue. But, it’s all nit-picking really. I was amazed at how clear the transfer is, with more eye candy than your average indie flick. Other critics have been very harsh on this transfer, but if you expect studio-quality on a non-studio film, you deserve to be disappointed. For a film so cheap (and one nearly a decade old), Swingers looks excellent.

The audio won’t upset your neighbours, but what did you expect from such a dialogue-heavy flick? The Stereo 2.0 track is more than adequate, with those all-important monologues coming across in a clear fashion. Those words of advice from Trent have never sounded so...well, shit. In a good way. I never had a problem catching Favreau’s brilliant dialogue, and the musical interludes are pretty great too (and it’s always a pleasure to hear Dean Martin). From the opening credits, it’s a cool-sounding motion picture; made all the better by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s appearance in the final reel. For once, I didn’t lament the absence of 5.1.

Bonus Material

The features are neatly spread across the discs, beginning with two audio commentaries. The first is with director Doug Liman and his editor Stephen Mirrione. It’s a frank and detailed discussion about the pains of making a film on such a crippling budget. For all those budding filmmakers, this is a pretty invaluable chat, since Liman goes into the specifics; recalling the tactics he employed to complete the film successfully. Mirrione also chimes in with the technical insight, but it’s the anecdotes from their on-set activities that really entertain. It was guerrilla filmmaking every step of the way - Liman would hide his camera under his jacket to film in certain places, or shoot illegally without a permit, just to keep the schedule running. With comments like this, I ended up loving the film even more. A brilliant track.

The second commentary with Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn is just as enjoyable, but not as crazed as you’d expect. They reminisce about their tough times in Hollywood, the inspirations for the script, getting the financing, and struggling throughout the shoot. They have plenty to say about the craft of acting (especially Vaughn, whose career blossomed soon-after), and it’s clear from Fav’s comments that it was a labour of love for him. The pair get on well, crafting a track you’ll return to again.

“Making It In Hollywood”

This documentary - spread into four featurettes - is a pretty fascinating look into the making of Swingers, even if the detail expressed is pretty slim. Still, it’s a highly entertaining affair, with some great anecdotes. In fact, it merely helps to explain how tough the picture was to make. Liman, Favreau, Vaughn, Mirrione and Ron Livingston are among the contributors, and they provide some amusing reflection - no one knew what they were doing, if they had enough money to continue, or if the general public would give a damn. When Livingston states that a dangerous arms dealer was willing to fund the film, you hope to hell that he’s joking...

“The Cutting Room Floor”

If the name didn’t give it a way, this is a collection of deleted scenes. They are all pretty funny actually, providing more of Vaughn’s famous ad-libbing. It includes the famous kiss between Favreau and Heather Graham too, which was rightly given the snip.

We also get a photo gallery of cast and crew shots, and the promotional campaign, the theatrical trailer, and the “Swing Blade” short film. The latter is a combined parody of Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade and Swingers. Yes, it’s pretty bizarre stuff. An eclectic end to a fine batch of supplements.

The Bottom Line

I adore Swingers. A fine comedy, it gets better with each viewing, providing laughs and potent food for thought. It’s also remarkably cool. Pathe’s Special Edition just about lives up to the name, with a pleasing transfer, and excellent features. Buy it.

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