Swingers is the nadir of independent American filmmaking. For over a decade, eager movie speculators have flocked to this area of cinema as if to a goldmine – and here the vein has clearly run dry.
It boggles the mind to realise that such a film reaches world-wide (thanks to the American distribution juggernaut Miramax and its subsidiaries) while hundreds of better movies languish on the shelf.
Written and co-produced by its lead actor, Jon Favreau, Swingers tries to be a hard-edged variant on the current twentysomething genre. It looks not at the rocky path of romance – none of its hopeless, loser guys even get near that path – but at the vicissitudes of the singles scene, and the ritual of the pick-up.
Every move made by the bewildered, hang-dog Mike (Favreau) and his mates ends in disaster and humiliation. A single, inspired scene shows Mike possessed by a mad compulsion to keep leaving messages on the phone machine of a woman he has met only hours before – messages which escalate from studied indifference to cloying, grasping psycho-babble.
This is a movie that bends over backwards to occasionally show its lead males as rather pathetic – thus feigning a vague criticism of their values and lifestyle. But every one of its low, lazy jokes reinforces the easy cliché of modern men and women as existing in separate worlds that can never meet. It is a depressing spectacle.
Swingers is an ugly film. I mean this literally: flatly composed and sluggishly cut, much of it looks as if it were lit by a sixty-watt globe. Mainly it is inept, due to the strictly amateur touch of director Doug Liman.
Like the worst movies influenced by Quentin Tarantino, Hal Hartley and Whit Stillman, it is a verbose, static, turgid piece. The greyness of its images is matched only by the drone of its supposedly witty dialogue – which often competes (and this is the Miramax signature) with endless, blaring, toe-tapping, contrivedly cool music.
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© Adrian Martin June 1997