When Judge Daryl Loomis is all growns up, he'll be total money.
How long do you wait to call your babies?
Despite its popularity at the time and my general penchant for movies about carousing, Swingers was always one that escaped me. I certainly knew about it and its role in popularizing the late-90s swing revival, but I was in college doing my own carousing and never found the time to see it. After its popularity waned and the swing craze thankfully died down, I forgot about it. Seeing it for the first time fifteen years after its release was interesting. I would have absolutely loved Swingers had I seen it when it came out; today, it reminds me that the era was kind of lame.
Facts of the Case
Mike (Jon Favreau, Couples Retreat) recently moved to Los Angeles to further his comedy career. Unfortunately, he left the woman he loves behind and, now, he can't get over it. His best friend Trent (Vince Vaughn, Wedding Crashers) is sick of watching him brood in his tiny apartment and whine about his girlfriend. So he drags Mike out, takes him to Vegas, introduces him to the hip world of swinger culture, and hopefully help him meet somebody new.
This doesn't make it a bad movie at all, but Swingers is one of the most dated movies of the last two decades. For somebody who was young and active during that time, it's a film that makes perfect sense, but I have a hard time imagining a kid today watching the movie and having any idea what all the fuss was about. In so successfully representing a small place in culture at a certain time, it fixed itself in that place and, eventually, the reason for its popularity drifts into memory. Jokes about grunge rock, obsessions with swing dancing, and product placement for Sega Genesis just don't work so well anymore. It wasn't even that long ago, but even as somebody who was (barely) still a teenager when this came out, I found myself fairly baffled that any of this was actually considered cool.
For whatever it hung its fedora on in '96, though, Swingers is still a pretty good movie. Made for a mere $250,000, Favreau, who produced and wrote the film, and director/cinematographer Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) put together an exceedingly slick film. Using handheld cameras and actual locations with few extras, there's a real immediacy to the film. When the boys go into the Derby club in LA, the house band is Big Bad Voodoo Daddy because they were actually the club's house band. The dancers swinging to their music are just the random patrons who came to dance. You can't buy the kind of reality that comes from throwing the actors into actual situations and hoping it comes out alright. It does here, almost universally. There are a couple of things that seem out of place and, regardless of how I personally feel about that era, I can't argue with the clear sense of time and place that Favreau and Liman get. I simply hold no nostalgia for it.
Swingers tells a well-worn story of a guy losing love and trying to find it again. There's nothing novel about the way the plot comes together but, for all their flippancy and crassness, the characters are really likable. Mike is an everyman schlub and, as he wrote Mike based on his own experiences, Favreau plays it very well. Trent is his boisterous, overbearing best friend who has his own problems, but stays on all the time to avoid dealing with it. This, of course, is the role that put Vince Vaughn on the map, and he hasn't really played a different character since, but he's a charming actor and, for all the bravado, it's hard not to like him. Mike's other friends, Rob (Ron Livingston, Office Space) and Sue (Patrick Van Horn, Four Christmases) have smaller roles, but they play well in the group and are very well-defined characters. Heather Graham (Say It Isn't So) appears during the final scenes as a cutesy bonus before she got really big. It's a small, sweet role that puts a nice cap on the film.
If I had to see Swingers for the first time and it not be in the theater, I'm glad it was on Lionsgate's Blu-ray. Since I have no prior experience with it, I can't compare the technical details with previous releases, but I can say that that the Blu-ray image looks very good. It carries an excellent grain structure with a nice full color palette and excellent detail. It's not the kind of transfer that pops out at you, but neither are the images in the film, so it works just fine. The sound isn't quite as strong, but there's not much to complain about. We have both 5.1 and 2.0 mixes; they sound nearly identical, with clear dialog and background noise, until the live music scenes, when the 5.1 track separates itself as the superior mix, even if the 2.0 is the original.
Although there's nothing here that wasn't on the Special Edition release a few years ago, the special features on the disc are numerous and very good. Two audio commentaries start us off. The first, with Favreau and Vaughn, is a good track featuring two friends reminiscing about their big break, telling jokes and cracking wise along the way. It's a solid track that's a very fun listen. The second, with director Doug Liman and editor Steve Mirrione, is much more technical, but no less interesting. They discuss the technical side of the production quite well and, though it's not as exciting as the previous, it's more valuable. Next, we have Making It in Hollywood, an excellent hour-long documentary that deals with every aspect of the production in a clear, concise manner, which is rare for this kind of thing. Fifteen minutes of deleted and alternate scenes give a little more backstory, but none of it is essential and, other than a trailer, the final extra is a short film called Swingblade, a combination of this film and Sling Blade that may have been funny fifteen years ago when both the films were popular, but today comes off as really lame. Given that the extras are all the same, I have a hard time recommending an upgrade for people who own the old Special Edition, but almost everything here is worth watching, so it's a very solid disc.
It may seem like I didn't like the film, but what I actually dislike is nostalgia. Swingers suffers from looking back to the '50s in its own time and, looking at it today, I mostly see how lame things look in retrospect. Still, Swingers is a well acted film with a solid story, all told on a meager budget. That means a lot, too, and the film is ultimately successful.
This disc is money. Not guilty, baby.
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