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Why It Works: Swingers

09.15.2017

Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

With AMERICAN MADE hitting theaters later this month, I thought it might be a good time to take a trip back to the beginning of Doug Liman's ever-changing career. No, we're not looking at Liman's 1994 debut GETTING IN, because I haven't seen it and neither have you. Instead, we're taking a ride to Vegas and exploring the clubs of Hollywood with Jon Favreau's screenwriting debut SWINGERS (which would also go on to elevate both Favreau and Vince Vaughn to stardom). SWINGERS follows a depressed comedian whose friends try to help him get over a bad breakup by taking him out on the town, and we all learn a valuable lesson about leaving messages. Here's why it works:

WHY WE LIKE THE CHARACTERS:

In our protagonist, Mike, we have a character who is still depressed about a six-month old breakup. While this may endear us to him, as we've all like been in his shoes at one time or another, it also makes him something of a sad sack. Mike's saving grace is that we pick up his story just as he's ready to begrudgingly be pulled back into the world. This lets us root for his recovery rather than just watching him be miserable. Most importantly, Mike is our regular, nice guy lens through which to view the rest of the SWINGERS cast, without whom we'd just be watching a bunch of vaguely annoying dudes trying to get laid.

Hands down one of the best uncomfortable comedy scenes out there.

Speaking of which, Mike's way-too-slick, motor-mouthed counterpart is the near-insufferable Trent. While Trent's lingo, bravado, and know-it-all player attitude make him unquestionably obnoxious, his undying confidence also makes him a ton of fun to watch. We also have to hand it to Trent once in a while when he actually does know the right thing to do and is able to impart Mike with some wisdom (though granted those moments are few and far between). We also see evidence that Trent genuinely cares for Mike, which goes a long way to helping us tolerate his antics. Rounding out the group are Rob, Mike's supportive and refreshingly non-Hollywood friend, Sue, the hometown wildcard who loves- and vaguely resembles- Quentin Tarantino, and Charles ,the quintessential LA socialite who's seen it all. Finally, while we only spend a couple scenes with her, Mike's new crush Lorraine finally brings Mike some joy, and her down-to-earth attitude reminds us that not everyone in LA is concerned with what kind of car you drive.

I have been to way too many of these Hollywood parties over the years.

WHY WE CARE:

While most films have a three act structure, SWINGERS is one of the few where each act seems somewhat self-contained, each opening with a heart-to-heart between Mike and Rob and ending with a distinct fade out. We could even label the three acts as ACT I: Las Vegas, ACT II: Los Angeles, and ACT III: Mike's Awakening. Within each act, we have plenty of changes of scenery and mood to keep our attention and a ton of amusing moments to make us laugh, but more importantly, we have ongoing tension between Mike and Trent. Trent's attempts to bring Mike back to reality not only tend to make matters worse, but it becomes clear that Trent's desire to have a good time tend to be at odds with his desire to help his friend. By the end of Mike's string of excruciating phone messages and subsequent two-day orange juice bender at the end of act three, it becomes clear that the only person who can pull Mike out of his rut is Mike himself.

MIKE: I can't believe what an asshole you are.
TRENT: Did she, or did she not smile?
MIKE: She was smiling at what an asshole you are.

WHY WE'RE SATISFIED:

At the start of the third act, we see Mike at his lowest point, though it doesn't take long for us to realize that he needed to get to that stage to be able to dig himself out of his hole. When he sees Lorraine across the bar, he takes the initiative to speak to her and eventually make plans to see her again. He's not smooth, but neither is she, and in their ANNIE HALL-esque scene outside the club, we see a Mike finally comfortable in his own skin. The next morning, when Mike's ex Michelle calls him after months of silence, he hangs up with her to take Lorraine's call instead, and the transformation is complete. Mike finally has reached a place where he doesn't need to hear from her (which, as Rob wisely said in the opening scene, is exactly the moment when she would call). Finally, arguably the best moment of triumph for Mike occurs in the final minutes of the film. Just as Mike is about to deliver a typical this-is-what-it-all-means bit of film-ending dialogue, Trent interrupts to engage with a woman who seems to be flirting with him. When it becomes clear the woman was actually playing with her baby and paying no attention to Trent whatsoever, a wave of satisfaction comes over Mike as Trent tries to brush it off and continue the conversation. It's a funny moment, to be sure, but it also serves as confirmation for both Mike and the audience that Trent is pretty much full of shit and not at all the infallible guru he's presented himself to be all this time.

I want to see a movie just about Mike and Lorraine. Make it happen, Favs.

WHY WE REMEMBER:

SWINGERS may not be a movie about cool people, but Doug Liman's direction brings an element of cool to the table. Liman blends the colorful flair of Las Vegas, swing, and other Sinatra-era hits with handheld cameras, found lighting (all of Mike's apartment shots are lit with lights in the room, for instance), and a generally organic, unflashy style. Jon Favreau's script is full of unforgettable gags and quotes (including clever homages to RESERVOIR DOGS, GOODFELLAS, JAWS, and a few other movie nerd classics), and the elements of solemnity and heart keep it from being just another dude comedy. Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn play brilliantly off each other, with Ron Livingston, Patrick Van Horn, and Alex Désert embodying three very different LA stereoypes, and Heather Graham capturing our hearts with limited screen time. Some movies do a great job of meditating on an emotion, and SWINGERS captures being down on yourself in a time of heartbreak beautifully and even imparts some wisdom on how to handle it. Okay, time to get out of here. This place is dead, anyway.

Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!

If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at brianbitner@joblo.com.

Source: JoBlo.com

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