- Rated R
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All photos © Miramax
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
riting about your favorite movie is one of the hardest things to do, because you don’t want to sound too biased, but you also want to be honest about why you think it's so great. And therein lies the problem of reviewing “Swingers” more than a decade after its release. While most critics would probably list something a little more classic (like “Citizen Kane” or “The Godfather”) as their inspiration for getting into the business, for me, it was Doug Liman’s hipster comedy that instigated my love of movies. It wasn’t just the funny writing or memorable characters that won me over, either. "Swingers" was also my very first encounter with independent cinema, and in showing what you could do on such a low budget, it changed the way that I approached watching movies forever.
Jon Favreau stars as Mike Peters, an aspiring actor who’s drowning in self-pity following a traumatic break-up with his girlfriend after he decides to leave New York to pursue his dream in Los Angeles. His best friend, Trent (Vince Vaughn), is desperate to get Mike out of his rut and back into the dating world, but after an amusing misadventure in Las Vegas proves that Mike still isn’t ready to move on, Trent convinces him to join some of their wannabe actor friends (Ron Livingston, Patrick Van Horn and Alex Désert) for an unforgettable night on the town in the hopes that it will help Mike get his groove back.
A bromance comedy long before that term was even coined, “Swingers” is the ultimate guy’s film, displaying the camaraderie between men as they prowl the nightclubs in search of hot women while serving as each other's wingman, argue about callback etiquette, and get in juvenile wrestling matches over games of video hockey. It’s one of the most honest portrayals of what it’s like to be a single, twenty-something male today, and Favreau (who also wrote the script) wrings the humor out of every situation. This is never more evident than in the film's most infamous scene, where Mike botches a romantic prospect by leaving a series of increasingly desperate messages on her answering machine. It’s absolutely painful to watch, and yet it's funny because it's true.
That degree of relatability is what makes "Swingers" just as entertaining today as it was back in 1996. Because while it definitely shows its age (and how could it not when swing culture plays such a prominent role in the film?), the relationships between all the guys feel timeless and authentic. Obviously, it helps when the actors also happen to be friends in real life, but in addition to Favreau and Vaughn’s incredible chemistry, the screenplay is overflowing with snappy dialogue, fun lingo and instantly quotable lines.
Director Doug Liman – who along with Favreau, Vaughn, Ron Livingston and Heather Graham (as the beautiful and down-to-earth Lorraine) went on to do bigger and better things following the movie's success – shoots the film guerilla-style so that the city almost becomes a character itself. The nightlife scenes look real because they are, filmed on-the-fly at establishments that remained open to the public during production and therefore didn't require any extras. It's this economical approach to filmmaking that gives "Swingers" its visual style, and it's yet another reason why the film works as well as it does. Movies this good only come around every once and a while, and between its great cast, quotable dialogue and sharp-witted humor, "Swingers" is sheer perfection.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
It’s a good thing that Lionsgate was given control of Miramax’s back catalog, because we might have never seen “Swingers” on Blu-ray if Disney was still in charge. Though the film doesn’t really benefit from the upgrade to high definition like some of the other '90s movies, it still looks better than ever and retains all of the bonus material from the previous DVD release, including the audio commentary by Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn. There's also a second commentary track with director Doug Liman and editor Stephen Mirrione, a four-part documentary that covers everything from writing the script and production, to swingers culture and life after the film, and some deleted scenes.