As college kids everywhere illegally stream or see Avengers: Infinity War in the theater, they might be looking pretty hard for the puffy guy — not Hulk or Thor but Happy Hogan. Iron Man’s lackey, played by Jon Favreau, didn’t make it to the Avengers party this time around, but don’t worry. You can find Favreau where he matters most. Because if you ever get your heart broken, he’s the one to help you through it.
Before Favreau was a blockbuster director (Iron Man, Elf, the attempt of Cowboys & Aliens), he made Swingers (1996), and then I didn’t feel so lonely about love. It worked for me, and recently I had the chance to see if it could work for my 19-year-old nephew Cole.
Cole is a freshman at a Midwestern engineering school who had been with his girlfriend for a year and a half. During that time he never thought about being with anyone else (I swear, I even tripled-checked), and he assumed they would eventually marry, just like his parents did after meeting when they were teenagers. I’m as shocked as you are that there are places in the world where anyone considers marriage before 27, but apparently it’s Iowa.
She broke up with him suddenly, with the reason of needing to find herself. This is a very youthful reason to break up, and she couldn’t verbalize much beyond that. His funk was palpable. Suddenly, we were talking on the phone a lot more. He kept asking “Why?” a million different ways, and he wasn’t giving his soul time to truly heal. You know, like all of us. Plus, he’s had one of those “happy” childhoods you hear about from time to time, so he wasn’t prepared for being abandoned by choice. The kicker? Instead of attending a wedding in Mexico with her and the people he thought were his future family members, he was now heading to Portland to visit me, my wife, and our two young sons.
Thankfully, just north of us in Washington, they’re foolish enough to allow 18-year-olds to gamble, so we started there. On the way to the casino Cole explained he didn’t need to set a losing limit, because we’d probably win right away. This was a surprising take since he’d never been to a casino, and his blackjack skills were brand-new thanks to an app. Ahhhh, youth. We had characters immediately at our $5 table. One man was thrilled to show us the $3,000 paycheck he was putting on the line, while being disgusted whenever another player wouldn’t do exactly what he wanted them to. Another man turned out to be a basketball referee (Cole and I are both 6’6″) who gave us unsolicited advice on how to box out (rebound the ball). Cole didn’t even mind the $40 he lost because of the entertainment factor of it all. But on the drive home, he brought up his ex, and tears followed. I’d been there, and felt the urge to shout at him to get over it, because it’s simply part of life. Thankfully, I thought of something else.
“Please tell me you’ve never seen Swingers.”
He had never seen it, nor heard of it. So we had our plan for the next night.
After the kids went to bed, we put the movie on. I hadn’t seen it in years, and was a little worried. I have love and hope for how society will change and move forward with the treatment of women. Would Swingers seem outdated, sexist, and embarrassing? Eventually I found out the answer (for me) is no.
Mike (Favreau) is still suffering from the end of a six-year relationship with his ex. He and Trent (Vince Vaughn) head to the depressing side of Las Vegas.
Minus a few details like time, location, quality of dress, and me thinking for a second that I would be the Trent wingman in this situation even though I’m a Mike any time I look in the mirror, this is THE EXACT SAME SITUATION, RIGHT?!? I mean, Cole didn’t even know how to set his money down. (Swingers Quote Alert: “I don’t want to bet it all.”) Cole’s double-down moment came when he split aces three times and, in a very painful fashion, lost.
I only had to explain a few things to him, like Pancakes in the Age of Enlightenment, or why all of them drove a car, but otherwise, the feelings are timeless. Thirty minutes into the film, with Mike and Trent parked on the side of the highway 278 miles from Los Angles, I paused the movie.
“So what do you think?”
“It’s good. I like it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, could you name another movie that mirrors the experiences, feelings and specific conversations you’ve had in your life more than this one?”
“Oh that? No. This is definitely the most I’ve ever felt like that.”
It was working. It continued to work. He’d tell me which friends were like the characters in the movie. We’d look at each other whenever Mike was venting with Rob (Ron Livingston). I’d explain which quotes became part of my vernacular (“This place is dead, anyway”). And the mean parts I was worried about weren’t based in disrespecting women (like Trent tearing up a women’s phone after he was polite with her). Plus, the film doesn’t use “we” or “they” all that often, but instead speaks about specific people or types of people without broadly painted comments such as, “Women always do this crazy thing!”
When the film ended we talked. Mike had to take it upon himself to improve his situation. He danced when he didn’t want to. Yes, I know it’s insane to hesitate when Heather Graham asks you to dance, but that’s the power of a broken heart. Also, the final diner scene when Trent flirts with a woman, then learns she was just playing with her baby, is the perfect indication of whose journey you should admire and respect.
The key to helping mend that young heart probably doesn’t come for most until they rewatch Swingers. That’s because there’s almost too much simple wisdom in the opening scene with Mike and Rob. Rob explains how and if you can actually take back a girlfriend who broke your heart. (Swingers Quote Alert: “Then eventually, you really will forget about her.”) It’s impossible to have someone explain your heart to you, or how your heart will feel. Swingers definitely does it better than an uncle can (at least in my situation).
I asked if he’d be watching it again, and it’s definitely going to make it into his regular rotation.
“You think you’ll watch it with your friend that reminds you of Trent?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“He would just point at Mike and say, ‘See, that’s what you’re like. Always moping around. You just got to get over it.'”
“That’s too bad.”
“Yeah, I have to wait until his heart gets broken. Then we can watch.”
There it is. That’s what healing looks like. He understands. Thanks, Favreau.