REVIEW: Swingers [1996]

“Mikey’s all grows’d up”

The early to mid-90s brought the world an insurgence of little indie films that could. Sure Clerks is looked upon as the movie that gave everyone the opportunity to say to himself, “Yes, I can do it”, but it is really Swingers that showed what an indie film could do. Kevin Smith’s debut was one made very much on the cheap with friends and non-actors waxing pop-culture philosophical. These guys were hilarious yes, but talented no. It was the witty banter, scripted by Smith, which gave that film its legs; the production values are low and the artistic quality little to none. Don’t get me wrong, Smith is one of my favorite directors and I absolutely love Clerks. However, a movie like Swingers (ok, so it had a budget of $200,000 compared to $30,000 for Clerks, but still that is pennies in this industry) takes the idea of filmmaking on the go and runs with it so far that it looks almost Hollywood.

Both of these films used a first time writer to be the backbone of the project. Like Smith, Jon Favreau crafted a script so real that it could have been completely ad-libbed. This film is the essence of life in Los Angeles with just dialogue. Much of the story takes place in the principals’ apartments; these one-room homes could be anywhere, it is the words that tell the story, not the visuals. Even when the action goes to some of the hip clubs around town and a casino in Vegas, it was all shot by the director, Doug Liman, without emptying out the venues. These guys would come in and rope off half the bar saying that anyone on that side might be in a film. Swingers is guerilla film-work at its best, shooting when they can and where they can. All the sounds are unscripted, the lighting true, and the people local. Everything is so tangential, helping the movie succeed. We are watching a group of friends go about their lives on the prowl for alcohol, sex, fun, and love. This is probably the closest you can get to documentary without it being so.

You have to love the way Favreau and Liman have allowed themselves to poke fun at their own on-going work too. Having a discussion about film costs and it being crazy to shoot a scene in a casino due to price, literally five minutes after they just shot in a casino is priceless. These guys love film and they bring that feeling to the work. It also doesn’t hurt having a spectacular supporting cast of faces that had yet to make it big in the industry. Classic “that guy” Alex Desert, Ron Livingston before Office Space, and Heather Graham before Boogie Nights all help add to the flavor. Besides them and LA itself, (a gorgeous slide show of photos for the opening titles and little jabs at the city like the inability to carpool in case you have a chance to take a girl home), Swingers is also the launching of Vince Vaughn’s hyper-comedy. The man puts this film on his shoulders and never lets it go. He is the best friend we all want. Sure he is a ladies man going off to get as many women as he can, but he will never leave a friend behind. It is his mission to get his bud back in the game and he will stop at nothing, even if it means his own love life suffering as a result. It was a star-making role that is so money I don’t think he can ever top it. He’ll get close, (Wedding Crashers for example), but the antics, attitude, and lovability here will not be beat. Vaughn is so good that, in only a few minutes, he was able to display the greatness that was EA Sports’ NHL ’93. The comradery, the skill, the gloating, and, of course, making Gretzky bleed for Superfan 99. You don’t get better than this.

Swingers 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★


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