Swingers was a pivotal film in many ways. A critical darling and a cult hit, it launched the careers of Doug Liman, John Favreau and Vince Vaughn. It helped usher in a new trend in screenwriting and was directly responsible for the Swing revival of the late 90s. It introduced the phrases “Vegas, baby, Vegas” and “So money” into the national lexicon and convinced hundreds of thousands of young men that polyester bowling shirts and knee-length wallet chains were excellent fashion ideas.
It is an interesting and emotionally honest journey of Mike as he tries to get over breaking up with his girlfriend… six months ago. Meanwhile you have his friends Trent, a boisterous natural with women and his friend Rob, a newcomer to LA. Mike’s pain is real and heartfelt and his screw-ups with women as he tries to get over his ex are painfully familiar. So much so, in fact that the first time I saw it, I turned off the movie about the time Mike started calling Nicki. It… was just far, far to close to home.
The movie plays with viewers expectations on several occasions. Hollywood’s trained us to think that Trent – the alpha of the group who is prone to dragging his friends out on adventures, who walks with a swagger and is a notorious womanizer – to be a complete asshole. Yet, we see that he’s a true friend to Mike, trying to help him get over his ex in the only way he knows how. Meanwhile Rob – the newcomer on the scene, the innocent who isn’t wise to the ways of the LA nightlife culture – would seem to be the fish-out-of-water, and yet he’s the one who ultimately provides Mike with the lift he needs.
Between the three of them there’s a lot for folks to learn… besides the fact that nobody, nobody should be rocking wallet chains.
You Can’t Make Her Want To Come Back – Mike has a nasty case of oneitis; it’s been six months since he and his girlfriend broke up and he’s been tearing himself up over her the entire time. Every night he checks his answering machine in the hopes that she’ll have called him. He’s desperately searching for some way to win her back, but it’s Rob who provides the ultimate truth about the situation: anything he does while he’s in this state is just going to reaffirm that breaking up with him is the right decision. Trying to win your ex back in that state only makes you look pathetic. Only by giving up can you possibly move forward.
Telling The Truth Means You Can’t Get Called On Your Bullshit – Mike is painfully insecure about his lack of success in Los Angeles. Like every struggling actor, he’d convinced himself that he was going to make it big as soon as he arrived and left home with his family and friends convinced that he was on the way to the big time. Instead he’s single, living in a shitty apartment, hosting an open mike night that nobody comes to and desperately looking for work. However, whenever he’s talking with women in status-conscious Los Angeles he tries to pretend that he’s hugely successful… and every time he gets caught in the act. A Las Vegas cocktail waitress calls him out on his claims to have representation; a beautiful brunette at the bar remembers that he asked her for an application for Starbucks… just as he’s trying to tell her that he’s working the Vegas club circuit and making the tall dollars. Getting caught out in these transparent lies makes Mike look even more pathetic than if he had just admitted that he was a struggling actor, like the rest of L. A.
It’s natural to want to puff up one’s resume in the hopes of impressing women. Inevitably, however, you will end up getting caught; there will always be someone who will be in the know, and the powers of both karma and irony dictate that they will find you at the worst possible moment.
Attitude Counts – The prime difference between Mike and Trent? Attitude. Mike is the living embodiment of the worst case scenario; as far as he’s concerned, the game was over before he even set foot out on the court. He’s convinced himself that there’s absolutely no point in going to the parties and clubs that Trent drags him to; as far as he’s concerned, the parties are lame, every single one filled with skanks and bitches who will see him as nothing but the person she’s forced to endure until somebody more interesting comes around and then some woman – who isn’t nearly as good as his saintly ex – will give him the brush off.
And he’s right; they are and they do… because that is precisely what he expects.
Trent, on the other hand, is money. He knows he’s money and he’s more than willing to show that he’s money. He walks into every interaction with a woman feeling as though he’s not only going to get what he wants, but she’s going to serve him breakfast in bed the next morning. He’s charming and knows he’s charming; the fact that half the time he comes across as an obnoxious cock is utterly irrelevant in his reality. It’s his world and he knows damn good and well that it’s all going to work out for him.
The difference in their attitudes directly affects their results. Mike gave up long before he even came out and it shows. He doesn’t flirt, the grumps. He doesn’t look, he glowers. He doesn’t strut so much as shuffle, shoulders hunched and projecting to the world that he’s a broken shell.
Everybody Loves The Storyteller – Part of Trent’s claim to fame is that he’s an inveterate talker. He can carry on a conversation with anyone and keep their interest. He knows how to brag about himself without coming across as boastful or arrogant. When he’s managed to charm his way back to the Airstream of a cute Las Vegas waitress, it’s his storytelling abilities that ultimately seal the deal for him. By telling the story of an audition gone wrong, he has them eating out of his hand and almost dragged back to the bedroom. His stories are short – less than five minutes – and to the point. They’re full of distinct characters and sensory description and they end exactly as he knew they would… with everybody howling with laughter. He knows exactly where the end will be, prompting the girls to respond at the right time.
Telling stories is an important skill to develop, and Trent is a master.
Sweet Is The Death of Sex – Mike doesn’t want to be seen as the asshole that he thinks Trent can be. Mike respects women. Mike wants to be the nice guy. Mike is sweet.
Sweet is the kiss of death when it comes to sex.
Women do indeed respond to sweetness… but not in the way that you want. Sweet makes girls go “awww” and want to give you a hug and a glass of hot chocolate, rub your head and tell you everything will be alright. Sweet does not make the panties come off. Those girls from Las Vegas may be impressed with how sweet Mike is and how deeply he cares about his ex-girlfriend, but they aren’t sleeping with him. In fact, his sweetness ultimately costs Trent his own chance at getting laid, a complete violation of the bro code.
Trent is not sweet. Trent is cocky and kind of a dick. And yet Trent is getting sex and digits while Mike is going home alone. Mike is, in Trent’s words, “The PG-13 rated guy that everybody REALLY hopes that he make it happen”. Trent is the R-rated guy that you like even though you’re not sure about him yet. Be the R rated guy.
There Are No Rules About When To Call Her – I’ve mentioned this before but if there was one dating rule I wish I could make disappear, it’s the “wait two/three/six day” rule that Trent and Sue endorse. If you’re interested in a girl, displaying that interest doesn’t necessarily mean you come off as needy. When Lorraine calls Mike the morning after they meet, she doesn’t sound desperate or needy; she sounds cute and charming and Mike honestly can’t wait to see her. In an age of near-universal cellphone ownership and text messaging, the so-called rules have gone out the window and good fucking riddence.
OK, Maybe One Rule – Mike calls Nikki within literally minutes of getting her number and leaving an long string of painfully awkward, rambly messages on her answering machine, each one making him look sadder and more pathetic than the last. Each time he tries to explain or justify the last call and each time he digs himself deeper and deeper into a whole until she finally picks up mid-ramble and tells him to never call again.
The only rule that counts when it comes to communication – whether it is by phone, email or text is the rule of the One Volley. You call/text/or email only once. You functionally are volleying the ball into her side. When and if she responds, she has volleyed the ball back to you. Then and only then are you allowed to call or email again.
They Won’t Come Until You Are Ready – Mike spends the entire movie continuing to be distraught over his ex, wishing she’d call him back so that he could patch things up with her. Only in the end, when he’s started to get control of his life again and realize that he is, in fact, a man with some worth does she come crawling back to him in the hopes that they can make things work again. It’s only when he has not only given up on her but has well and truly moved on that the universe gives her back to him… and he’s wise enough now to know that it’s best to let her go.
You Need To Look At What You Have – Also known as The Grass Is Always Greener”. Mike, for all that he protests how he wants to be a nice guy and thinks Trent is an asshole, envies Trent’s life. Trent attracts women the way that cheese attracts mice. He’s utterly at ease with himself and the world around him.
Rob, on the other hand, is painfully envious of Mike. While they’re both quick to admit that Mike isn’t living the A-class life, he’s got it pretty good. He has an agent, he’s a working actor with a SAG card and membership in AFTRA. He’s got a regular gig at a comedy club and he’s had actual movie roles while Rob has just gotten rejected after applying for a job playing a mascot at a theme park. Mike’s self-pitying keeps him from realizing that, yeah, he’s doing fairly well for himself. It’s only his obsession with his Oneitis and his persistant tendency to define himself by his failures rather than his successes that keep him from realizing that he’s a lot better off than he thinks.
Only when he can come around to this acceptance can he find the confidence to approach Lorraine and find the final piece that he needed to truly get over his ex and move on with his life.