Another guy movie, but quite a sweet and funny one, “Swingers” is a winningly confident snapshot of the nightlives of a bunch of young showbiz wannabes in a very upto-the-minute Hollywood. Engaging, refreshingly human in its humor and becomingly modest in its aspirations, this hip look at being out of it announces some promising new talent and will play well with young audiences looking for comfortable entertainment that doesn’t feel manufactured. Commercial prospects look good with smart marketing.
Jon Favreau’s chatty, idiomatic script trades in the age-old concerns of sexual awkwardness, romantic regret, male bluster and the wisdom born of experience, as well as in the need most young people have to talk it all out. The men here are mostly new arrivals, still quite far from striking it rich, and the backdrop is not the Hollywood either of glamorous myth or urban sleaze, but the actual town as represented by such recognizable real-life hangouts as the Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop, the Los Feliz golf course, the Dresden and the Derby, home of retro swing dancing for Frank-worshipping twentysomethings.
Favreau plays Mike, a hulking, not very confident comedian-actor from New York who can’t go two minutes without returning to the subject of his ex-girlfriend, with whom he’s still obsessed six months after they split up.
Mike is dragged off to Vegas by his slick, good-looking friend Trent (Vince Vaughn), a would-be producer who talks a good enough line to snare them a couple of babes for the evening, even if Mike blows his chance by instantly launching into a confessional about his ex with his date. Side-trip interlude also offers the opportunity for some nifty character observations re male braggadocio and sexual insecurity via the two young men’s approaches to gambling and talking to women.
Despite its relative plotlessness, pic is kept aloft through a succession of scenes at parties, clubs and social encounters due to the quirky humor and accruing detail in its portrait of character and milieu. The vacuousness of a superficially lively party at a house in the hills is unerringly captured, and Mike’s pathetic plight reaches profound proportions in a classic sequence, the best in the film, in which he leaves a series of messages in the middle of the night on the answering machine of an attractive woman he’s just met in a club. With each call, he abases himself a little further, to the point where his all-encompassing lack of self-esteem fully, and hilariously, expresses itself.
It all comes together one night at the Derby, where Mike at last meets a lovely young woman (Heather Graham) with whom the chemistry is right. The scene’s inherent romanticism is nicely underplayed.
Written with the unmistakable feel of experience behind it, and directed (and shot) with a sure touch by firsttimer Doug Liman, film pays homage to the two undoubted masters of the contempo tough-guy genre, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, the former through a long hand-held take that follows the boys into a club through the kitchen, the latter in a slow-motion strut of the men heading out for the evening that hilariously apes “Reservoir Dogs.”
For all the posturing, however, the tone here is infinitely more gentle and everyday than the ones achieved by the well-known directors, and violence is virtually nonexistent.
Favreau gives a reading of the schlumpy, sad-sack Mike that ultimately proves quite droll but not comentary-laden. Vaughn is an engaging fast-talker, Graham offsets her unlikely beauty with a down-to-earth accessibility, and most of the other performances are tart and well observed.
Film looks sharp for a low-budgeter, and lively soundtrack keeps things bouncing along despite what could be slight overlength.