In every conceivable way, Swingers marks the middle ground between the Miramax pillars Clerks and Good Will Hunting. A no-budget wish fulfillment fantasy where d-list talent wills themselves into the mainstream. Swingers can’t boast the glossy textures of Hunting, nor the sharp dialog in Clerks, but it does muster great style even propping up that flash-in-the-pan Swing Revival of the mid nineties.
Good Will Hunting masked its ambitions behind a compelling narrative. That Matt Damon and Ben Affleck catapulted directly into the mainstream with Academy Awards showed that the pair (with help with the Weinsteins) knew how to mold their real life exploits into a similarly winning story. Swingers is much more naked in its ambitions. Most of its cast had achieved a level of success in the industry beyond that of their fictional counterparts. These are characters who brag about getting let into an audition, while secretly applying for work as baristas. Rather than validate them, Swingers shows their LA tenure as pure delusion. Their money’s running out and former Hamlets can’t get a gig as Goofy at Disneyland. But everyone in the movie wants to be a big big star.
While the plot is nominally concerned with mending Mike’s (Jon Favreau) broken heart, it’s true aim is a lust for the trappings of Hollywood fame and glory. Sequences from Reservoir Dogs and Goodfellas get explicitly mentioned in the dialog before getting faithfully recreated and integrated.
Jon Favreau’s script doesn’t have much verbal finesse and all the catchphrases it attempts to create arrive stillborn. Vince Vaughn’s frequent use of “baby” is an instant relic of its mid nineties milieu. But the film has style to spare. If there’s one great refuge for the broke and lower rung of society its in good taste. Suits can be found in thrift stores, but how many men have one available for an impromptu Vegas excursion? How many are learned in the art of dance in case the Right One just happens to be sitting at the bar and the live band is blaring Swing? How many would search out a classic car rather than settling for the cheapest pond scum on a used car lot?
Swingers also bolsters Los Angeles. You’re just a few hours from Vegas, all the bars are huge and packed with beautiful women in all hours of the night.
In a way Swingers minted more talent than Hunting and Clerks put together. Stars Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, and Heather Graham eventually reached the A-List, or at least very close to it. Director Doug Liman went on a tear of reliable mainstream action pictures (notably The Bourne Identity, and Mr and Ms Smith). Even the supporting talent, including Ron Livingston and Alex Desert, would have steady careers that occasionally flirted with big successes.