Cocktails first. Questions later.
The first piece of advice given any young writer is "write what you know"—which is exactly what Jon Favreau did. Swingers is a semi-autobiographical account of the adventures Jon and his friends encountered while seeking their fortunes in Hollywood. Hip, stylish, and chock full of emotionally unstable twentysomethings in search of high profile work and meaningful relationships. Baby, this special edition is so money!
Facts of the Case
Michael (Jon Favreau, Daredevil) is a struggling actor/comedian. More importantly, he's a brooder. You know the type—they turn every event into a monumental occurrence—extremely common in artistic types. Running away from a failed relationship back east, Mikey has made his way to LA in search of fame, fortune, and glory. What he's found is a decaying studio apartment, barely enough work to pay the bills, and a close knit group of similar situated friends who are sick and tired of hearing him piss and moan about his ex-girlfriend. Enter Trent (Vince Vaughn, Gus Van Sant's Psycho), Mikey's best friend and the life of the party. You know—head cheerleader of the group—the Julie McCoy of the USS LIFE—the guy everyone wants to be around because he's always high energy. Trent is on a mission—help Mikey drop the Eeyore act and get back into the game. From an impromptu trip to Vegas, to exclusive industry parties and backdoor entrances to the hottest LA nightclubs, Trent plays the Frank Sinatra role in the boys attempt to recreate the wild and raucous life of Hollywood's legendary Rat Pack.
While not 100 percent autobiographical, Favreau adapted, exaggerated, and wove many actual events and conversations into a hyper-reality that became the Swingers world. While the boys (Ron Livingston—Office Space, Patrick Van Horn—Three to Tango, Alex Desert—Becker) are all Jon and Vince's real-life friends, the film is not an MTV Real World experiment that many first believed it to be. In truth, Swingers is a gem of an independent film, forever capturing a brief moment of time in which the glory of the '40s and '50s were resurrected for a generation on the cusp of the dot-com revolution. The evening-long existential conversations on everything from world politics to favorite films; the music of bands such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra; the return of Zoot suits, wingtips, and bowling shirts; and the resurgence of Martinis and Manhattans created an entirely new counter culture for the disposable income of twenty- and thirtysomethings desperately looking for something to call their own. Those of us who are members of this generation will see themselves and their friends reflected in the exuberant optimism of Trent, the tortured brooding of Mike, and the unbridled hostility of a boy named Sue. There was definitely something special about coming of age in the early 1990s, but it was very short-lived. Once this sub-culture was co-opted by the mainstream, its innocence and uniqueness was forever lost.
Swingers is another great example of the power of independent films. Shot over 20 days, on a budget of $250,000, with a hand-held 16mm camera, on location with real people, the film draws you into the lives of these characters more effectively than many big-budget studio pictures. Under the creative direction of first time director/cinematographer Doug Liman (Go), Favreau's writing is brought to life in a series of vignettes capturing the emergence of Mikey from tormented soul to liberated artist. While the acting is top-notch, it may be difficult to call it acting, as these gentlemen are for all intents and purposes playing themselves. Whatever you call it, the characters and performances are extremely engaging. While Favreau, Livingston, and Desert have had limited success in both film and television, the breakout star here is Vince Vaughn, whose energy lights up the screen through the entire film—most notably during their adventure in Vegas and during the final act. Katherine Kendall (Flatland), Brooke Langton (Hulk), and Heather Graham (Boogie Nights), also shine in their limited screen time as Mikey's varied love interests.
While the film itself is something to treasure, Miramax has done an exceptional job of giving it the special edition treatment in this release. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer is incredible for an independent. Very little in the way of dirt or grain. Rock solid blacks and vibrant colors that tease and tantalize, especially during the boys' trip to Vegas. The Dolby 2.0 audio track is not the best you'll ever hear, as much of the film was recorded under very difficult circumstances. However, what may be lacking for the extreme technophiles will not be at all distracting for the average filmgoer. In fact, the retro soundtrack (Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, etcetera) will leave everyone's toes a tappin'. In addition, the bonus features provide future filmmakers with insight into the process, trials, and tribulations of bringing a project like this to life. The cornerstone of these features is Making it in Hollywood, a fantastic 50-minute documentary detailing the process the film took from concept to completion. The Cutting Room Floor contains five extended/deleted/alternate scenes that did not make the final print—and for good reason. Two commentaries are also included on the disc. The first and most entertaining features Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn recalling not only the behind-the-scenes stories of making the film, but also their real-life adventures that inspired it all. What's more, they've borrowed the John Madden telestrator to punctuate all the little background nuances and inside jokes we would have otherwise missed. A definite must-see for those who enjoyed the film. The second commentary is by director Doug Liman and editor Steve Mirrione (Traffic). While fascinating to those who are interested in the process of filmmaking, many people are likely to find it dry and boring. One final gem on the disc is a three minute indie comedy short entitled Swingblade—a twisted merging of Billy Bob Thorton's Sling Blade character with the Swingers universe. Very funny. Rounding out the disc is a gallery of movie posters, the obligatory cast and crew filmographies, and a handful of trailers for other Miramax releases.
Before the mass media coined the phrase "Cocktail Nation," there was a brief bubble of time and space that twentysomethings were able to call their own. Swingers is a film that captures the essence of a close knit group of friends coming of age in vibrant world of diverse characters and wild adventures. Those of us lucky enough to share similar experiences will quickly recall the magic of those times. For everyone else, it's a great place to visit, if only for 96 minutes. Swingers gets a must buy recommendation for the Gen X crowd and a must rent for any fan of independent films.
This court hereby dismisses any and all charges leveled against Swingers and commends Miramax for its continued support of independent filmmaking. Daddy says you're all free to go baby! Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Documentary "Making It In Hollywood"
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