★★★ / ★★★★
Mike’s girlfriend of six years broke up with him to be with another man. Being a good friend, Trent (Vince Vaughn), a smooth talker, tries his best to help Mike (Jon Favreau) keep his head up and move on from the split. Since Mike moved to Los Angeles from New York City just recently to pursue being a professional comedian, what better way to find inspiration and women than Las Vegas.
One might take a look at the title the film and assume the worst: a tacky, sex-crazed, mindless frat-boy comedy with neither depth nor ambition to incite genuine laughs that everyone can relate with. I certainly did. I was happy to have been proven wrong even before the opening credits.
Written by Jon Favreau, “Swingers” pays equal attention to the awkwardness of a good-hearted sad sap trying to jump back in the dating pool and the friends who give him the confidence to not be so hard and down on himself. There is a formula to the personalities of the people surrounding the protagonist but it is never apparent or distracting.
Rob (Ron Livingston) is the most sensitive, always having the time and patience to listen to Mike talk about pretty much the same thing each time they go out. Sue (Patrick Van Horn) is the most generous when it comes to sharing his thoughts, lacking a filter as well as the timing of someone used to being attuned to another’s feelings. And then there is Trent, commanding a balance between Sue’s macho act and Rob’s words of wisdom. It makes sense that Mike spends the most time with him.
The funniest scenes involve Mike and Trent getting into all sorts of increasingly embarrassing situations until we want to cringe and hide our faces in order to preserve the remaining dignity they have. The trip to Las Vegas is especially amusing. The duo are convinced somehow that if they entered a casino wearing suits, people who work there would notice and free goodies would be given to them. Though it is of no surprise to us that their plan backfires, their commitment is hilarious on top of their ceaseless effort to come off as high rollers. The comedy works because they do not recognize their situation as funny but everyone else around them—including us—do.
What surprised me most is the picture’s well-written screenplay. Instead of relying on one physical gag after another, there are plenty of instances when characters are allowed to talk. Somehow, there is an unfortunate Hollywood fabrication that guys do not like to talk about their feelings especially when it comes to their perceived inadequacies. This is an offensive assumption and I was impressed that the picture subverts this trend. Yes, young males like to drink, play video games, and hook-up but it does not mean that they are incapable making deep and lasting connections with their fellow male friends. There is a complexity here that is easy to take for granted because it all flows so well.
Directed by Doug Liman, “Swingers” is far from a run-of-the-mill buddy comedy. It has sensitivity and insight sandwiched between good times at parties and bars.