I recently watched Jon Favreau’s Swingers for the first time. I don’t know what took me so long, but I’m glad I finally watched it. I loved it. It’s a movie completely reliant on dialogue and writing; nothing really happens at all. Other movies have done this same thing, and they don’t always work for me. But Swingers definitely worked for me, and I loved it. I like Jon Favreau and what he does; I really liked his most recent movie, Chef, and I still like Iron Man regardless of how many sequels were made. There’s two scenes in the movie that I think are particularly brilliant, in very different ways.
1) The famous phone message scene:
In my humble opinion, this has to be one of the Top 10 film scenes of all time. The movie centers on Mike (Favreau), a struggling comedian/actor living in Los Angeles who can’t get over his ex-girlfriend. He’s constantly moping and obsessing, and his friends are basically sick of it. So they reach towards the obvious solution: take him out and help him find a rebound. I mean, what else is there to do? The scene above comes after one of these nights of drinking and talking to girls. This night was different than the others, because Mike actually managed to get a girl’s phone number. A huge score. After the digits are retrieved, a conversation ensues about how long he’s supposed to wait to call the girl. A consensus is reached: two days. So, of course, Mike decides to call her as soon as he gets home, at 3am in the morning. As you can see in the clip above, he screws it up royally.
This scene is great for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Favreau plays it perfectly. It’s hard to watch because the trajectory of calm, to anxious, to full-on meltdown happens so quickly and so organically that it seems as if this is something actually happening rather than something being acted out for a movie. I cringe every time I watch it, in that sort of “Please, put down the phone! Stop calling her you idiot!” type of way. My favorite part is towards the end, when he says, “Uh Nickie, this is Mike, this is, uh, this just isn’t working out. I think you’re great, but maybe we should just take some time off from each other. It’s not you; it’s me. It’s what I’m going through. Alright, uh, it’s only been six months…” And then she responds: “Don’t ever call me again.” So great.
2) The wisdom of Ron Livingston
This scene really stuck with me. It’s sad, and it’s real, and it’s truth.
In particular, there’s one line that I see as haunting. Mike asks, “How did you get over it? How long did it take?” Rob (Livingston) responds, “Sometimes it still hurts. You know how it is man. It’s like, you wake up everyday and it hurts a little bit less, and then you wake up one day and it doesn’t hurt at all.” This is what people always say to other people when they are going through hard times: “It just takes time,” or “Everyday it gets a little bit easier.” In this sense, this scene really isn’t that unique. But it’s what Rob says after this that stuck with me: “And the funny thing is is that, this is kinda weird, but it’s like, it’s like you almost miss that pain.” Mike is surprised: “You miss the pain?” Rob responds, “Yeah, for the same reason you miss her: you lived with it for so long.”
This line is amazingly counter-intuitive, and it really doesn’t make any sense. And Mike’s dumbfounded response probably correlates with the rational, logical mindset: “You miss the pain?!?!” Why would anyone ever miss pain? Wouldn’t we be ready to get rid of it? To put it in the past? But Rob’s explanation is so spot-on: that pain becomes a part of us. It’s taken up residence in our lives, and although we never want it to be there, it slowly becomes a normal part of our daily routine. And, strangely, it becomes part of what we expect in our day, and part of how we interact with the world. And regardless of how much we want it to go away, it gets to a point to where we almost rely on its presence because, without it, there’s a hole left–a hole that might get filled with more pain. I think that this is what this scene really gets to. The fact that we latch onto the pain in our lives because eventually we become familiar and comfortable with that pain, and we’d much rather have a pain we know than one that we don’t. Sure, it sucks to feel that pain. But it’s been a part of us for so long that we don’t know what to do without it.
The silver lining is that this is just another step in the process, and the movie doesn’t advocate–and neither do I–for us to purposefully strive to latch onto pain. “Missing pain” is just another part of what we go through whenever we go through hard times in life. When someone close to us dies, or whenever someone close to us is no longer part of our lives, we grasp onto our sadness because it eventually becomes the only way we know how to remain connected to them. And as much as we know they’re gone, we don’t want to lose whatever connection we have, even if that connection is one of sadness. And so we resort to just continuing to be sad. Or at least this is how our dumb hearts make us feel about it. But this isn’t the way it has to be, and I don’t think that this is the end result. I’m not saying the pain always goes away; instead, I think it morphs into something else. It takes a different shape in our lives; it becomes a signifier of different meanings. And, eventually, we have to step up and decide to let this change occur and to face the fact that moving on from a past, comfortable pain opens up the door to scary, unknown pains that might occur in the future.
But that’s what life is all about. Being open to pain means that you are open to happiness and adventure and, well, life. And there’s a payoff in the end. Regardless of how many times you make a fool of yourself by leaving multiple voicemails for a complete stranger; or how often your friends have to tell you “You’re so money, baby!” (picture a younger, thinner Vince Vaughn); or how many days you convince yourself that it won’t get better. There’s a payoff.
Or at least that’s how I see the world according to Swingers.