Swingers Blu-ray ReviewAugust 18, 2011
One would be hard-pressed to find a more beloved movie from the 90's than Swingers. Produced on a shoestring budget, the film made quite an impact on the culture and dialogue of the time. It also single-handedly launched the careers of Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn and director Greg Liman; all big names in their fields nowadays who were virtual unknowns at that time.
Despite its success upon release and seeming longevity, some may wonder if Swingers passes the test of time. In this reviewer's humble opinion, it's a resounding yes.
The film revolves around Mike (Jon Favreau), a struggling comedian that has moved out to Los Angeles after a bad break up with a long-term girlfriend so as to get his personal and professional life on track. He's been lured there by Trent (Vince Vaughn), Mike's overly confident best friend who's one of those guys that would seem to be a real ass if he wasn't so compellingly charming, which he is. Trent has made it his mission to get Mike over his break-up the only way he knows how, through an endless series of partying, discussions, and even more partying.
Whereas Trent is unabashedly cool and quick witted, Mike is consistently bumbling and awkward, especially with the ladies, or as Trent would say, the "Babies." Despite all of the help and advice offered him, Mike just cannot let go of his past and is a prisoner of his neurotic short comings, which do lead to many of the movies funniest, most chest-tightening moments.
As the film progresses, though, Mike begins to make peace with his past and even finds himself with a lot more going for him than he had ever imagined.
The performances by Vaughn and Favreau in this movie are truly incredible. Their characters exist as polar opposites and both actors play these roles to perfection, mainly because they are literally playing exaggerated versions of themselves. It's easy to see how these two really shot to stardom, especially Vaughn who really does a lot with a character that is so close to obnoxious, yet you can't help but love him.
Much like other independent films of its kind, Swingers is an incredibly dialogue heavy film, and it's really all the better for it. It was with this dialogue and its "cocktail nation" slang that the film won over so many people. The phrases "Vegas, Baby!" and "You're Money" sound a bit old and cliche these days, but these were phrases that were being brought to light thanks to this film and its script, written by Favreau himself. Culling nearly every aspect of the story from his own life experience, Favreau gave Swingers an autobiographical touch that helps make it that much more endearing and able to survive being dated like so many other products of the nineties.
Along with the performances, there is the ingenuity and talent of director Doug Liman also on display. Faced with budget issues left and right, Liman found ways around these problems and came up with some creative shots along the way. It's surprising seeing such an intimate film from the guy that would go on to make The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but he does an excellent job with it, never getting to flashy and allowing the performances and dialogue to really stand out.
It would be a disservice to Swingers and it's timing to not mention the music. At the time of filming, there was a swing music revival going on in California and by the time the film was released (and some say due to the film itself), swing took the nation by storm for quite a while. The music was everywhere, as was the dress code. Even commercials for the GAP featured swing dancing, and Swingers was right there at the forefront from the wardrobe to the soundtrack.
The music and dance makes for a strange, almost anachronistic feeling with the film. For me, someone who lived through this time being aware of its place in pop culture, the film doesn't so much feel dated as it does serving as a reminder of that time period. On the other hand, someone a bit younger (my wife, for instance) was unaware of this period of swing fascination and saw these aspects within the film and felt they were a genuine homage to the 30's and 40's as it was originally intended.
Being an incredibly low budget production, it's no surprise that Swingers is far from being a reference quality transfer. This was not only Liman's first directorial effort, but he also insisted on being the DP, which he had also never done before. Liman employed lots of tricks to get around expenses and grand equipment setups, much to great effect, but still having that "independent" look about it.
That's not to say the video presentation on Blu-ray is bad by any means. It's actually quite impressive considering the limitations and is, in all honesty, the best the movie could ever look.
The film is presented in a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode that does a good job of retaining the original look. There's a good deal of grain throughout, sometimes excessively so to where it could be noise, but those instances are few and fleeting.
Overall, there's good detail with close-ups often having some softness. All in all, the picture won't wow you, but being realistic it won't really let you down either.
As with the limitations to the video presentation being an aspect of the film itself, the audio fares much the same way.
Lionsgate presents Swingers with two options: a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and also a 2.0, the latter of which the disc defaults too. Either one works fine for the movie, as it's primarily dialogue heavy and both tracks give the dialogue the forefront it deserves.
It might be sacrilege to say, but I'd slightly suggest the 2.0 over the 5.1, as the movie rarely, if ever, takes advantage of the full stereo sound and the 2.0 seems a bit tighter and more cohesive. Whichever track you choose, you can also feel secure in the music really shining through but never becoming overbearing.
Beyond The Feature
Swingers comes to Blu-ray with a decent amount of special features, albeit all in SD format. The good news is that they're all pretty legitimate, insightful and worth your time, save for one.
Audio Commentary with Director Doug Liman and Editor Stephen Mirrione - This is a rather insightful look into the production of the film. A lot is made of working through the budget restraints and some of the tricks they learned due to them. Quite a few anecdotal stories come up as well. If you're a fan of the film, it's definitely worth a listen.
Audio Commentary with Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn - As soon as I saw this one listed, I couldn't wait to listen. These two are genuine friends and have an amazing rapport together. They jump back and forth from sharing various insights to discussing what's going on onscreen to taking light jabs at each other. There are some lulls here and there, but they are few and far between. Both actors seem to be having a great time remembering and watching the film, and I'd recommend this track to anyone.
Making It In Hollywood (49 min, SD) - This documentary can be viewed as four parts or as a whole and is beyond comprehensive. Quite a bit is covered across both commentaries, but it's more refined and to the point within this doc. We start at the beginning with Favreau writing the script and follow it all the way through production and the films warm reception upon release.
I found it quite interesting seeing just how much of the film's script is taken directly from Favreau's life, as well as all of the obstacles that had to be overcome just to get the film made. These guys are all big names now, but it's quite refreshing seeing them in their humble beginnings just trying to get their story told.
Deleted Scenes (14 min, SD) - Five deleted or extended scenes are presented here and can be watched individually or together. None of the scenes are really that noteworthy, save for Vaughn ad-libbing more in the diner. Good for a watch, but not something I see myself revisiting.
"Swing Blade" Short Film (3 min, SD) This is a short parody mixing Swingers and Swing Blade and it's seriously unfunny. I love both movies quite a lot, but this just really fell flat. Don't ever watch this. You'll be better off.
Fifteen years since its initial release, Swingers remains a top notch film. From beginning to end, it's hilarious, it's real and it's just genuinely a whole lot of fun.
The whole movie relies on Vaughn and Favreau delivering the goods, and they are, without a doubt, money. Coupled with Liman's direction and some brief, but incredibly informative and engaging special features, this is a release that I feel should be in anyone's collection, especially those that enjoy a good laugh and a compelling story.
- Matt Hardeman
Shop for Swingers on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (August 23, 2011 release date).
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