By Tony Schwabb
Almost every movie set in L.A. shows it to be a cynical, callous city that steals the hope away from everyone who lives there. One of the best examples is Swingers, a movie that ironically became the basis of successful Hollywood careers for Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn and Ron Livingston.
Jon Favreau stars as Mikey, who is getting over his girlfriend and, like his friends, trying to establish an acting career. Comforting him are Trent (Vaughn) and Rob (Livingston). Livingston is very down to earth as the friend that comforts Mikey at his saddest moments. Vaughn is great as the obnoxious but ultimately likable friend that wants Mikey to cheer up by going to bad party after bad party. Vaughn’s performance is great because he is flamboyant enough to take over his scenes, but not so much that we wonder why anyone stays friends with him. These character types are all very common, but the way the movie handles them is brilliantly tragicomic.
The characters are all obsessed with living up to a long-outdated idea of a star. They want to be Frank Sinatra, calm and collected as he becomes the center of attention everywhere he goes. They cannot though, because they are such average guys. In its lighter moments, this produces many hilarious scenes. Mikey and Trent go to Vegas hoping to be taken for big spenders. Then, when they go to their first poker table, they don’t know how to buy chips. At another point, Mike tells a girl he is a comedian but cannot name his agent.
The characters striving after the Sinatra image is as sad as often as it is funny. Over and over again they are rejected for acting parts that they thought were beneath them. Many discussions are about the humiliations of having to tell family back home that they failed to get a callback for a sitcom. Mikey, depressed for most of the movie about his recent breakup, is the least able to maintain a cocky facade. He has trouble working up the energy to go out and do things with his friends and struggles even more to meet women. When he finally does, he messes it up in an amazing example of cringe humor. He gets a girls number and leaves her eight consecutive voice mails until she finally picks up and tells him never to call her again.
The conflict between the characters dream of old-school Hollywood glamor and their actual, mediocre lives is brought out really well by director Doug Liman, who has gone on to direct The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow. He has a great feel for the bars, casinos and apartments the characters visit. They are always a little to dark, loud and crowded. They serve as a constant reminder to Mikey and his friends that they haven’t made it yet.
Tony Schwabb is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org