Lessons on game from the stars of “Swingers”

by GK on October 3, 2012 · 3 comments

I’ve watched “Swingers” countless times since I first saw it in 2000, back when I had a lot in common with Mikey — clueless with women, in a new city and yet to overcome a breakup that I initiated. Not until recently, though, did I hear the guy behind the guy talk about what exactly worked for Mikey in the end.

“Swingers” is up there with “Princess Bride” as my favorite all-time comedy; there are too many classic lines to mention here, including the NHL Live scene, which still makes me lose it.  But I wasn’t alone in treating the movie as a kind of tutorial on how to attract women in the bar scene — back then, it was the closest thing us guys had to “The Game” in the mainstream. I soon learned to limit puppy dogs and ice cream in my conversations.

Though I’ll be damned if some waitress doesn’t get my Age of Enlightenment references.

I was recently bedridden by a fever, and after all these years I finally watched the movie with the commentary provided by Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn. I strongly recommend you check it out in the collector’s edition if you haven’t already — it’s fun just to hear them riff, but they also give the Trent and Mikey characters some context some viewers might have missed.

As they’ll tell you, Trent and Mike were Vaughn and Favreau — right down to alpha-male Vaughn being the life of the party and ripping up women’s phone numbers, and beta-male Favreau struggling to adjust to life and ladies in L.A.

Trent instantly became the friend every male viewer wanted to be like or hang out with. He’s cooler than Mike in almost every way, and he’s also exceedingly loyal even while Mike takes his wet-blanket antics to some soggy depths, including cock-blocking Trent in Vegas and starring in the most wince-inducing, painful phone scene in film history.

But as much as Trent has been celebrated all these years, the film’s stars remind us that when Mike finally does pull it all together and gets the girl, he doesn’t do it Trent’s way. He does it his way, which is a lot more grownsed up:

  • Rather than pretend he was a producer a la Trent, Mike plays to his strength: swing dancing. It’s much easier to demonstrate higher value when you actually have value at it. “This was a great way to meet girls,” Favreau says of the swing scene he found in L.A. I can’t help but compare it to how I met lots of women dancing by avoiding the douchy clubs and going where I liked the music.
  • My one quibble with the movie for all this time was that Mike’s pickup of Heather Graham’s character seemed a bit too easy — smoking-hot women typically don’t go to clubs alone and ask men to dance with them, and we’re talking about Rollergirl here! — but after hearing Favreau explain his triumph, I appreciate it more. Graham was a female version of Mike: in a new city, off a breakup and a swing-dance nerd. Trent may have had the advantage with most women, but Mike had the advantage of meeting his type.
  • Mike isn’t smooth throughout, and Graham busts his balls a few times. But when it comes down to getting her number after their big dance, he does it without apology and like a boss. And the three-day rule already begins to show his obsolescence when she calls him first.

Trent, meanwhile, loses some of his luster near the end. He shows a little jealousy with his “My baby’s all grownsed up” act at the diner. And Favreau says in his commentary that in the final scene, when Trent gets clowned by the mom he thinks is hitting on him, Trent was doing it to impress Mike.

The beauty of “Swingers” is that you don’t need to remember it as a meditation on being yourself. It’s also just a really funny movie about guys going out and having a blast. But mack-daddy Vaughn himself cautions aspiring players not to take after Trent too much: “It was sort of celebrated after the movie in a way that was cool … But really it was exposing that stuff to be adolescent and a waste of time. That is the game that goes on. But the journey of the character in the movie is to a place that’s more enlightened than that.”


1 SW October 3, 2012 at 6:11 am

Great post, GK. One of my favorite movies that B introduced me to. We referenced it all the time (and still sometimes do) when we’d go out for a good night. I’m glad you pointed out the subtleties in the movie, because they’re most likely overlooked by the far overshadowing presence of guys going out having fun. It really can be tough for a guy moving to a new city and in the midst of a breakup, I haven’t had all those experiences come together all at once but I do remember it being a ‘brave new world’ when I moved to Philly and not really knowing a whole lot of people there, and especially no girls. Starting from scratch, as it were. But as you point out about Favreau, he (or anyone for that matter) can score biggest off the bat with ones that end up being a female version of himself.

One of these days I’ll have to go buy that edition, because I’d like to hear the undoubtedly hilarious and insightful commentary they provide. Again thanks for posting!

2 GK October 3, 2012 at 8:24 am

Hey SW! Here’s one funny fact from the commentary: In the swing-club scene when Mikey approaches Heather Graham, you can notice another guy at the bar trying to hit on her first, and he looks annoyed when he has to move over. That guy had no idea there was a movie being filmed and REALLY WAS trying to pick up Heather Graham. Isn’t that cool?

3 SW October 5, 2012 at 6:22 am

Wow really!? That’s awesome! hahaha I remember that scene I had no idea. Very cool indeed.

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