Tuesday, June 16, 2009

“I’m gonna make Gretzky’s head bleed for superfan 99 over here.”

RMWC trundles onward into the DVD shelf, grabbing Doug Liman’s Swingers (1996) for two reasons. I really love that movie and its only 96 minutes long. Funnily enough, checking IMDB, Liman also directed The Bourne Identity, as well as Jumper. That has no bearing on my intended viewing whatsoever.

PlotA group of young actors with shitty jobs in Hollywood hang out after hours and try to score chicks. Hilarity ensues.

All right, there’s a little more too it than that. You’ve got Mike, a stand up comedian who’s been reeling for six months after breaking up with his ex and moving to L.A. from New York. The movie follows him as he tries to get over his ex. It’s a simple plot, but often in comedy, simple is perfectly suitable.

Mike: Our Hero, and also Iron Man director Jon Favreau. Mike’s a nice guy, but therein lies his problem. He just can’t get over his ex girlfriend and that stunts his ability to function around his buddies. Of course, that’s the main crux of the movie. Can he get over his ex girlfriend and his own awkwardness to woo the beautiful babies? Here, Mike really is likeable, and a lot of the humor comes from the downright painfully awkward situations he gets himself into.

Trent: Mike’s best friend and a would-be actor, played by Vince Vaughan. Trent is the fast talking, action-taking flipside to Mike. Trent is the cool buddy who’s constantly trying to push Mike into self confidence (and also through leading by example). Trent is this movie’s baddass, calling anyone out on bullshit, always backing up his buddy. The only real downside to his character is that he doesn’t get a real character arc, and that difference shows by the end of the movie.

Rob: Mike’s friend from back east, recently moved to L.A. and struggling to find work as an actor. Certainly a side character, he struggles to swallow his pride after auditioning to be Goofy at Disneyland after playing Hamlet Off-Broadway. Also happens to be played by Ron Livingston, who was in Office Space.

Sue: A local who’s dad loved that Johnny Cash song, Sue is more Trent’s friend than Mike’s since they both chase the ladies with gusto. Sue’s also got an image thing going on where he projects himself as a hard-boiled badass who grew up on the streets and carries a gun around, which invariably causes trouble. Sue’s the easily pissed off one, which leads to the somewhat surprising end of the second act.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)
No special effects to speak of, considering the subject and budget. All that leaves is cinematography to deliver on the mood. Liman delivers. Sure, some of the shots are deliberate shout outs to other movies, but the composition of the movie is overall very solid. Los Angeles and Las Vegas are captured in a fairly realistic way. When they roll into Vegas in the first act, Trent & Mike, Vegas looks like the swanky, fancy, neon playground that everyone expects. Then they get inside one of the lesser casinos and it looks like how the midnight-6 AM crowd on a Wednesday night would look: slow and a little bit sad.

A similar thing gets done with L.A. Its not the over-glamorized movie factory town, but its also not the crime riddled war zone of the underbelly. It’s a lower middle-class L.A. where people who drive beat up old cars go to hole in the wall jazz/swing bars and their apartments have cracks in the walls from all the earthquakes. It’s a refreshing snapshot of a nightlife scene that doesn’t really exist anymore (after all, its been more than ten years and the swing revival didn’t last very long).

Also, I have to mention that I absolutely love some of the shots in the movie. Trent pissing by the side of the road on a bright sunny morning is awesome. Mike standing in silhouette in his doorway after coming home from a bar is one of my favorite shots of all time for some reason.


An indie film like this lives or dies on the strength of its writing. Jon Favreau’s script is a solid three act story where the main character learns something about himself and the movie doesn’t waste time getting there.

More importantly, the dialogue is outstanding. I’m struggling to sound glib and urbane here in describing it and nothing good is coming to mind, and I don’t want to just start quoting it because I’ll feel like a douche. It is funny. It is damn funny. It is infinitely quotable in a variety of situations.

The soundtrack is suited to a movie about the not-wife-swapping kind of swinging. A laid back jazz soundtrack punctuated with a country song here, a rock song there just hammers home the underground feel of the movie: playing Dean Martin over the opening credits in a movie about 20-something actors in L.A. in the early-mid 90s was not a mainstream decision. Also, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy made a live appearance in the film, one of their earliest exposures to a wider audience.

I love this movie. It blends thoughtfulness, style, music and banter into a compact little package that is best viewed in the company of others. Thoroughly recommend it, and if you don’t like it, then there’s no accounting for some people’s bad taste.

This... is an awful trailer. Do not let it discourage you.

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