There was a point about twenty minutes into Swingers when I thought that maybe the film had gotten a little too dated. The two main characters Mike and Trent, Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, had just picked up two woman in Vegas, but there was a noticeable lack of excitement. This certainly wasn’t a Hangover Vegas trip and the only thing that needed to be kept there was Mike’s terrible game with the females. Couple that with the fact that there had already been several mentions to calling cards, answering machines, among other 90’s devices, and I was starting to sense maybe Swingers didn’t have the punch I had heard about. Swingers had been a big cult hit when it came out, helping usher in the jazz age revival that blew up in the late 1990s, and I had heard great things from smart people, but thirty or so minutes in my attention was wavering. However, soon after pausing the film and debating making a switch to a more exciting film (it was 2 AM after all), the scene shifted to a shot of Mike and Trent sitting in their car next to the highway. It’s a very simple scene of simply Trent and Mike talking, but it was the first time where the film cuts through the aesthetic and dialogue style and gives some heart (this is despite the fact that the scene has the first utterance of the famous line, “You’re so money and you don’t even know it.”) After that scene, I was hooked and I didn’t think twice again about pausing the film.
Swingers became a cult film because of its accurate portrayal of the mid-nineties 1990s club scene, and its unique dialogue and characters. However, the film holds up because it tells a simple universal story in an interesting. Swingers is about loss, specifically Mike’s break-up with his long term girlfriend, and the friends beside him trying to make him happy again. The era may have changed, but the themes and events are the same. Everyone has friends like “Double Down” Trent, the one trying to take your mind off the break-up with alcohol and fun, and Rob (Ron Livingston), the one who always has the right thing to say, and that universality makes Swingers much more than a stylistic comedy. The film doesn’t provide any significant truths about getting over loss, but it accurately portrays the peaks and valleys of recovery and friendship that everyone experiences in the their life. For instance, take a look at this scene where Mike tries to contact a girl he just met that night in a bar.
Nowadays, people would probably just text the person instead of leaving voice messages, but the idea is the same. Favreau is able to perfectly portray the awkwardness, anxiety, and self doubt that lingers when someone breaks your heart. He is an absolute train wreck, but that doesn’t make the scene any more fun to watch.
However, it would be a shame to discuss Swingers without mentioning the overwhelming sense of cool it exudes. Vince Vaughn drops awesome one liner after one liner, and the film has some excellent scenes. There isn’t much action, but the smallest things are amplified. Whether it is game of NHL 94 on the Sega Genesis, or an homage to Goodfellas, Swingers overcomes it slow pacing and plot. Still, the problem with movies based on an aesthetic is that they can be exclusionary. I was only 8 years old in 1996, and while I remember the jazz resurgence (I owned a Mighty Mighty Bosstones CD), my connection to the mid-90s drinking lifestyle is tenuous at best. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy that aesthetic, but for people with no emotional connection to the time period, Swingers could have have been nothing more than some good one-liners and a few great performances. That is why it made it all the better that Swingers had a unique style and a strong emotional center. It speaks a lot about a certain time and place in history, but its characters reminded me of tons of people I know and situations I’ve been in, and that is the main reason why Swingers has become a cult classic.
Up Next: I take a figurative trip back to the North Shore of Massachusetts by watching the 2010 film The Fighter.