Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, Patrick Van Horn, Alex Desert, Heather Graham, Deena Martin, Katherine Kendall, Brooke Langton, Blake Lindsley
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Shot on the smell of an empty gin bottle and utilising a number of cool back alley LA lounges and night clubs in which the spectres of smooth latter day crooners like Sinatra still reign supreme, Swingers typifies the creative spirit of American independent low budget film making. Director Doug Liman, who shot Swingers for a mere $250,000, creates a visual style and unique cinematic language for this off beat comedy. He shot the film in a number of back alley night clubs that gives the whole thing a feel of authenticity and his documentary style approach also adds to its natural look.
This semi-autobiographical tale of friendship and survival in the ’90’s is set against the background of the retro-swing movement, a fad currently sweeping across America. The movie is based on the experiences of Jon Favreau, a young writer and aspiring actor who left New York to try and crack it in the movies in Hollywood. His alter ego here is Mike (played by Favreau himself), who leaves New York and his girlfriend behind to try his luck in LA.
After six months, Mike is still struggling to get a break in the business and is still without a steady girlfriend. A number of friends, led by the cool Trent (Vince Vaughn, from The Lost World, etc), decide to help Mike out. Trent first takes him to the neon lit gambling palaces of Las Vegas, but when that doesn’t exactly go according to plan he returns to LA. With the assistance of Rob (Ron Livingston), Sue (Patrick Van Horn) and Charles (Alex Desert), Trent then takes Mike on a whirlwind tour of seedy back alley night clubs.
Swingers is essentially a sly and wicked look at secret men’s business, male bonding, their dating rituals, and the film explores with candour what men actually do and talk about when they are alone by themselves. However, there is something horribly misogynistic about the whole premise that may well prove off putting for some audiences. The writing is certainly witty, and Favreau has an ear for the language of the streets and slick male banter, and he suffuses the material with a rare honesty. Swingers is undoubtedly a labour of love for all concerned, and something of a catharsis for Favreau, who wrote most of the roles for his small circle of friends. The performances from the largely unknown cast are full of energy and verve and seem entirely natural.
Favreau and co are certainly very cinema literate film makers, and there is even an affectionate wink in the direction of Reservoir Dogs and the whole Scorsese tough gangster oeuvre here. But somehow, despite such cool and knowing touches, Swingers doesn’t entirely work. The film is very talky and dialogue driven, hence the pace is quite slow, and a lot of the humour occasionally falls flat. Ultimately, this is a film about film literate slackers, made by film literate slackers for film literate slackers.