This past weekend I was the best man at my friend Rodger’s wedding. I spent a long time working on my toast, which went well, but there was something I was thinking about that I didn’t get to include in my speech.
A lot of times, our ability to feel joy for others is constrained by our own status – if you’re having a horrible month, it’s hard to be happy when you find out that one of your friends just scored a huge raise. That’s why it’s a bad idea to gamble as a group – for every person that hits it big, there’s going to be at least one other who takes a bath. But what’s always been interesting about my friendship with Rodger is that I’m always rooting for him – regardless of what’s going on with me. I can spend two hours bobbing about in freezing water without catching a single wave, but if I see Rodger pick up a long right and stroll out onto the nose, I’ll be hooting for him as loud as I can.
I’ve always tried to resist being jealous about having friends chase after my ex-girlfriends, but Rodger’s the one guy I was actually disappointed in when he passed up his chance when my ex Suzon turned up at his New Year’s party in a pair of tight leather pants.* Doug Liman’s independent film Swingers (1996) features a similar sort of friendship between its central character Mikey (Jon Favreau) and his libertine friend Trent (Vince Vaughn).
The Film: Swingers
The Song: “Go Daddy-O”
The Artist: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Who’s Who: This film, which was shot on a tidy budget of $250,000 in and around the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, was a rousing success for most of those who were involved in its production. It was written by and starred Jon Favreau, whose acting career flourished after its release. Favreau has had even greater success behind the camera, after directing the lackluster Made (2001) – no more Mafia comedies, PLEASE – he helmed this year’s second-highest grossing blockbuster Iron Man.
Vince Vaughn has become one of Hollywood’s most popular and successful leading men, helping pull in at least $100 million in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), DodgeBall (2004), Wedding Crashers (2005), and The Breakup (2006). Doug Liman has built a solid career in the realm of action films, directing The Bourne Identity (2002) and serving as producer for the subsequent sequels, as well as directing the financial juggernauts Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) and Jumper (2008).
Ron Livingston has been consistently active since his turn in Swingers as Mikey’s hometown friend Rob. And even Heather Graham, whose career had entered something of a valley after her triumph in Drugstore Cowboy (1989), benefited from her appearance as Mikey’s salvation, the Wisconsin transplant Lorraine. And the film provided great exposure for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, a swing revival band from California who signed a contract with Capitol Records shortly after the film was released and played the halftime show at Superbowl XXXIII in 1999.
Why it Works: I took one session of dance classes – the jitterbug – and one of the first things I learned about partner dancing is that when leading, it is more important than anything else to be decisive. This scene provides us an opportunity to watch Mike’s rapid transition from supplicant to star. The chance to show off for just a few minutes out on the dance floor with a talented partner brings his mojo roaring back. The dance is fun to watch, and of course the song is appropriately peppy and the title fits the scenario perfectly. But what’s more interesting to me than all of that is Trent’s behavior as a spectator.
Throughout the film, Trent has been doing the best he’s capable of to get Mikey out of the consistent funk he’s been in since leaving his girlfriend in New York to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. Even though Trent shows himself to be alternately immature, belligerent, self-absorbed, and condescending, he ultimately cares about his friend Mikey and more than anything just wants him to be happy. After Mikey disastrously interrupts Trent’s tryst with a Vegas cocktail waitress, Trent lies and claims that he “didn’t really like her all that much, to be honest.” When Mike interrupts a complex courting ritual between Trent and a cigar-smoking actress at a party, Trent tells him, “Don’t sweat it.” And in the scene shown above, when Mikey has finally felt a surge of self-confidence and is cutting a rug out on the dance floor, Trent is transfixed. Even though Trent throws a drunken tantrum in a diner afterwards when Mikey insists that he’s got it under control, it’s clear that in the moment of Mikey’s triumph, Trent is genuinely thrilled to see his friend succeed.
What Goes Wrong: After a splendid exchange in which Mikey quips that “my reputation appears to have preceded me,” the scene is a bit slow to develop before Lorraine asks him to dance with her. Once they’re on the floor, though, everything comes together.
Other Stuff: I’m not saying that I’m anything like Trent, or that Rodger is anything like Mikey, but when I watched him and his bride Karen share their first dance, I couldn’t have possibly been happier. Congratulations to you both.
* I was out of town. It probably would have been a lot weirder if I had been around.