Swingers (Doug Liman, 1996) has been one of my favorite films since the first time I saw it (most likely when it became available for rent at Blockbuster). I’d told one of my teachers that she should watch it because it was really funny and had great music. She watched it and didn’t like it nearly as much as I did (as a fifteen-year-old, mind you) because she said it was like a guys’ guide to dating. I watched it again tonight after having not seen it for maybe four years. I now understand better what she meant back then.
Written by and starring Jon Favreau as Mikey, a comedian who’s been trying unsuccessfully to forget about his ex-girlfriend and make progress in his artistic craft, the bulk of the film centers on the dynamic between him and his circle of friends, mostly Trent (Vince Vaughn) and Rob (Ron Livingston), as they make the house party rounds in Los Angeles in search of diversion.
The opening scene is more cynical than I remember. Mikey talks about his ex-girlfriend again and Rob tries to sympathize, offering advice that basically amounts to the notion that women you break up with only come back after you’ve actually forgotten about them. He expresses appreciation for his friend’s ear, mentioning that Rob is the only person with whom he can speak to about this topic (which the film soon reveals is not true).
If you’ve seen Swingers before, you’ll remember the entire Las Vegas sequence where Trent is oblivious to or couldn’t care less that his behavior is making his friend very uncomfortable. I’m curious…how many men have friends like him, and if they consider him to be a good friend.
Would you want to have him as friend? Does he function as a certain archetype within a male friend group that doesn’t translate easily to workplace dynamics or platonic relationships between men and women? Trent means well and is not afraid to tell Mikey to cut out the tendency to dwell, eventually playing peacekeeper when Sue (Patrick Van Horn) gets brutally honest with Mikey.
Recall the conversation Trent and Mikey have in the scene at the side of the road on their way back to LA from Las Vegas:
Mikey: You’re a good friend.
Trent: Look, you take yourself outta the game. You start talkin’ to ’em about puppy dogs and ice cream, of course it’s going to end up on the friendship tip.
Mikey: I just don’t think she liked me in that way.
Trent: Baby, you are so money, and you don’t even know it.
Mikey: Look, T, the girls don’t go for me the way they go for you, okay?
Trent: Michelle went for you, right?
Mikey: That’s different.
Trent: Why? How is that different?
Mikey: We were younger. It was college. You didn’t go to college. You don’t know how it is. The girls are young, they drink. They don’t know any better.
Trent: Do you know how stupid that sounds? Listen to me. Your self-esteem is low right now because she’s with somebody else. But talkin’ about it, thinkin’ about it all the time, it’s depressing. It’s no good, man.
Mikey: I just need a little more time.
Trent: Why, so you can sit around your stuffy apartment beating yourself up over it? Remember the first week after she told you?
Mikey: Don’t remind me.
Trent: Huh? You couldn’t even leave your place. You know, you just sat around your stuffy apartment, sitting there, drinking orange juice, feeling sorry for yourself. Now look at you, man. Right? I mean, you got a part in a movie.
Mikey: A day.
Trent: Whatever, Mike. It’s work, do you understand? You’re doing what you love to do. What the hell is she doing now?
Mikey: Selling scrap metal.
Trent: Okay. And this guy she’s seeing, what the hell does he do?
Mikey: He drives a carriage.
Mikey: I heard he drives a carriage around Central Park or something.
Trent: Oh, Mike, please! You’re the fun-lovin’, outgoing party guy, and you’re sweatin’ some lawn jockey. Jesus Christ, man! You’re better off without this girl. You gotta trust me on this, Mike. All right, buddy?
Mikey: Stop talking. Shut up.
And they’re both laughing at that point.
Mikey admires Trent but is also deeply annoyed with and often embarrassed by him, particularly when it’s just the two of them in public. In contrast, Mikey’s one-on-one time with Rob operates more closely to responsible adulthood. As I watched this moment unfold, I determined that this film does indeed depict the way men talk to each other, really talk to each other beyond merely imparting facts (as I’d noted recently in The Railway Man).
Here’s the full articulation of the pep-talk:
Rob: [Gives Mikey a bottle of orange juice, goes to the window let some sun in.]
Have you eaten anything today?
Mikey: [Shakes his head.]
Rob: [Tosses over what looks like a foot-long hot dog wrapped in butcher’s paper but ends up being sausage and lets more sun in at another window.] Yesterday? You haven’t been drinking, have you? [Grabs a chair and orients it to face Mikey, who is sitting against the wall by the front door.]… You wanna talk about it?
Mikey: What’s the point?
Rob: Hey, it’s been two days. You should call that Nikki girl.
Mikey: [Facial expression of “ugh” and tilts his head back against the wall.]
Rob: Not your type.
Mikey: I’m thinking of moving back East.
Rob: Well, that’s dumb.
Mikey: What’s so dumb about it?
Rob: You’re doing really well out here, Mike.
Mikey: How well am I doin’? I host an open mike; I play a fuckin’ bus driver in a movie. Big fuckin’ deal. I got an agent that specializes in magicians. How good am I doin’?
Rob: Did you get turned down for Goofy?
Mikey: They turned you down?
Rob: Yeah, they went with somebody who had more theme park experience. I killed for that job. The point is, Mike, it all depends on how you look at it. All right? I mean, you’re telling me that your life sucks. That means my life is god-awful, you know? Part of the reason why I moved out here is because I saw how well you were doing, and I figured if you could make it, I could make it too.
Mikey: I didn’t make it.
Rob: You got an agent. You got in the unions. You know, that’s your problem, is that you–you don’t look at the things that you have. You only look at the stuff you don’t have. Those guys are right about you. You’re money.
Mikey: Then why won’t she call?
Rob: She won’t call because you left. She’s got her own life to deal with, man, and that’s in New York. All right. She’s a sweet girl and I love her to pieces, but fuck her, man–you gotta get on with your life. You gotta let go of the past, and Mikey, when you do, I’m tellin’ you, the future is beautiful. All right? Look out the window. It’s sunny every day here. It’s like manifest destiny. Don’t tell me we didn’t make it. We made it! We are here. And everything that is past is prologue to this. All of the shit that didn’t kill us is only– Ah, you know, all that shit. You’re gonna get over it.
Mikey: How did you get over it? How long did it take?
Rob: I don’t know. Sometimes it still hurts. You know how it is, man. It’s like–you wake up every day, it hurts a little bit less, and then you wake up one day and it doesn’t hurt at all. And the funny thing is–this is kinda weird, but it’s like you almost miss that pain.
Mikey: You miss the pain?
Rob: Yeah, for the same reason that you miss her, because you–you lived with it for so long.
Mikey: [Stands up.] Let’s go get something to eat.
Rob: All right, sure.
Mikey: You look like shit. [Chuckles.]
How much of the humor or interpersonal social etiquette is directly tied to the communication technology available, namely, landline phones and answering machines rather than mobile phones (dumb or smart)? If there were a Swingers of the 2020s that explored the same themes, didn’t change the genders of the friend group (but possibly incorporated other elements of dietary, romantic, financial, philosophical or lifestyle variation), and included not just smart phones but mirrored the pervasive use of social media platforms of the present, would that answering machine scene highlight compulsive checking to see if one has new texts or messages and then sending twelve within two minutes?
Pic creds: IMDB, Miramax