Words by Matt Poe

“Swingers” (1996)

Netflix Star Rating: ★★★☆☆
Poe’s Star Rating: ★★★★1/2☆ (money, baby…so money)

A young wannabe comedian attempts to get over his ex-girlfriend with the help of his friends and the Los Angeles night scene and learns that self-confidence can go a long way.

Category: Comedy, Independent, Cult Classic

Rated R for language throughout

Starring Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston and Heather Graham

Written by Jon Favreau/ Directed by Doug Liman

Welcome back to another edition of Poe’s Picks. I’ve got a little something different for you this round, dear reader. Throughout this blog, I’ve chosen movies in a variety of ways: ninja stars, mini crossbows and good ol’ fashion random picks. But this time, I want to share a movie with you that is one of my all-time favorites and is officially the first installment of Poe’s Favorites, movies that are near and dear to me and may be to you upon viewing.

Every now and then, I’ll sneak one of these bad boys in here for you because these are the films that I utmost recommend watching. I chose “Swingers” in particular because I feel like the blog has consisted of a lot darker, more serious films. While I am always down for a great serious movie, sometimes you want something that will make you laugh and grin. This is that movie. Let’s take a look at what’s on our plate.

Photo courtesy of IMDB.

“Swingers” is a movie you either love or have probably never heard of it. It stars Jon Favreau, who appeared on the blog in a previous edition for the film “Chef,” and is also the director of the first two segments of the “Iron Man” series, the soon-to-be “Jungle Book” and “Elf.” Alongside him is Vince Vaughn, who I need not introduce because, hell, just about everyone is familiar with the wise-cracking Vaughn.

Mike (Favreau) is a down on his luck, twentysomething comedian who left New York for Los Angeles to get his big break. He also happened to leave because he and his girlfriend of six years broke up and for the past six months, it’s consumed him. She is harboring his every thought. His good friend Trent (Vaughn), also an aspiring actor, tries to tell him enough is enough and cheer him up by heading to Las Vegas for a night, just to get Mike back on the scene.

“You’re money, baby, you’re so money you don’t even know it,” Trent tells Mike to help rally himself.  

Reluctantly, Mike agrees and the two take Vegas like only a couple of young, broke guys could. The trip goes—well watch the damn movie to find out, I can’t spill all the beans. Mike and Trent end up back in LA and continue to do their thing, hopping from party to party, trying to pick up a girl’s number or waiting for that call-back audition for a sitcom.

Like many of my favorite films, this one isn’t so much about plot; a movie about young guys hopping from party to party in the 90s may not sound thrilling to some but that’s because this isn’t a shallow movie. There’s a lot more to it. Shot on just a meager $200,000 budget, the camera work in this is spectacular. We get a mix of grainy shots and close-ups, along with some truly great editing and quick cuts of the nightlife scene; we feel like we’re gulping down a rum and Coke with these two as they scour the streets. For anyone familiar with 90s independent films, the directors and writers who emerged from that era (think Tarantino) will realize how carefully crafted the dialogue is. “Swingers” is very talky buts its conversations feel very real and the dialogue is extremely sharp.

For the folks in our generation who grew up on “The Hangover” and “Step Brothers,” “Swingers” may not be raunchy enough. Sure it has its crude humor, thanks mainly to Vaughn, but it’s not a movie filled with gross gags or shtick; kudos to Favreau, who wrote the script and made it feel like real-life scenarios instead of defaulting cheap laughs. The movie also has some great homages to other films that you may catch along the way. After all, everyone steals from everyone in show business.

You can see the makings of what the two actors in the film would become throughout their careers. Favreau can bounce nicely between playing sweetheart or hard ass, but his Mikey is more complex than just a mopey guy. His struggle is that he both wants his ex-girlfriend back and, at the same time, wants to forget her entirely: He’s stuck in an emotional purgatory. His character is one of the most genuine you’ll find in film.

And Vaughn—man is he killer in this. This is the role that jumpstarted his entire career and shaped many characters he would go on to play. I’m a big fan of his but I’m hard pressed to find a role I like him in more than this one. He’s quick-witted, a smartass and a slightly tacky know-it-all, but at the same time, his Trent character cares for Mike. He’s not exploiting Mike for his own personal gain; he just wants to help his friend find his own swagger and confidence.

“Swingers” is a must-see for any twentysomething guy. It’s not a traditional coming of age film like a John Hughes movie but it does have some of those same qualities: young people navigating through the early stages of careers and venturing into the unknown. Ultimately, I think it’s about taking chances and realizing that life is far too short to play it safe all the time, and while others may believe in you, you have to start by believing in yourself. Anyway, go see this movie. It’s money, baby. So money.

Until next time.

In Good Movies We Trust,

Matt “Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am” Poe