If ever there was a film that exemplifies the old adage ‘write what you know’, it is Jon Favreau’s Swingers. Reflecting on his career, Favreau has said, “if you stick to things that you know and understand and people that you know, it allows a very true voice and you tend to come off as a better writer than really are, because you’re incorporating so much of reality into your piece.”
At the time Favreau might have been a nobody but instead of selling his script, he was intent on maintaining control over every aspect of his 1996 debut feature. He wasn’t happy with the changes that other people wanted to make, changes he strongly felt “interfered with my vision for the piece.” It’s a good job he stuck to his guns – 20 years after its release Swingers is widely regarded as one of the decade’s best comedies.
In a time when grunge, raves and rap music were absorbing most ’90s youth, Favreau and his posse were steeped in the swing revival that would emerge fully later in the decade. Dressed in bowling shirts and pleated trousers, he and his friends were trying to make their way in Hollywood and while the film isn’t autobiographical, Favreau has revealed in interviews that “it was definitely based on people and places and inspired by events.” You can tell. The dialogue is authentic, warm and naturally funny, with phrases like ‘Vegas, baby!’, ‘beautiful babies’ and most famously ‘you’re so money’ quickly entering the mainstream vernacular.
It wasn’t only a catch-phrase that went on to bigger things, Vince Vaughn’s comedic career was sparked thanks to Favreau. According to the writer, Vaughn’s character, Trent, was based “very closely” on the actor’s personality – no one before had played up his “rapid-fire delivery or his sense of humour”. Everything from the charming, ultra lo-fi opening credits, featuring grainy shots of Las Vegas and the LA social scene, to the eclectic soundtrack contributed to Doug Liman’s second directorial effort. At it’s core the film is an honest, simple story of guy whose broken heart needs mending, with the help of his friends and a trip to Vegas.
Swingers is all heart and it was no accident that it set Favreau on his way to becoming the huge Hollywood player he is today. Even back then, he always had a good sense of what good storytelling is all about. “It all goes to emotion. If you’re emotionally engaged, everything is going to be funnier, more satisfying, scarier, everything.” He has admitted that the reason you feel so connected to Mike and his mates is, “because the story was so personal and sincere, and that’s a very hard thing to maintain as you do bigger and bigger movies.”
Favreau believes that if Swingers was made 40 years ago, when the industry was less exclusive it wouldn’t have been considered an indie picture. Today, he reckons that, “you have to appeal to a certain age-group and have a certain marquee value. It costs so much money to open a movie,” which means the studios have less freedom to take risks. Swingers was indie because it was made “outside the system,” but the sensibility he insists isn’t indie. “I think it’s just the timing – if that movie were made today, it would be a mainstream film.”
Published 17 Dec 2016
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