By Gabe Toro | The Playlist August 23, 2011 at 6:10AM
There’s no way around this, there’s no kind way to preface this, there’s no purpose to side-step it: “Swinging With The Finkels” is one of the worst, cheapest, dumbest and most dishonest films of the year. The film has the same tin-ear for its material that student films usually sport, often when they’re about retirement, hitmen, or a litany of subjects young people tackle despite clearly having no experience in the field. 'Swinging,' in theory, would be a film oblivious to the matters of sex and intimacy, but, in fact, it’s merely alien to any and all human behavior. The only 2011 film with this level of understanding regarding our basic humanity was Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch,” but at least that picture has the fallback of a heightened science fiction story.
'Swinging,' a barely-there narrative punctuated by faux-enlightening quotes (many repeating the “grass is always greener” cliché as if it had any new insight in 2011), begins with an unhappy couple played by Martin Freeman and Mandy Moore. No, this couple never becomes believable. How unhappy are they? They’re so unhappy that when the forty year old Freeman explains to the twenty seven year old Moore about his tendency to gaze at other women, she looks at him like he no longer loves her, and that she’s absolutely positively never heard of this being classified as a “biological need.”
It’s understandable that there are those out there with a limited understanding of sexual functions. What’s not understandable is writing a script where you are so desperate for laughs that you turn your ostensibly likable characters into maladjusted morons who might as well be from outer space. So when mincing gay stereotypes and ethnic caricatures speak of using a cucumber as a sexual aide, not only is it an idea never before heard, but it’s so bizarre that the whole concept of a sex toy is questioned. While it seems as if Freeman and Moore haven’t ever shared a sentence, or even a sandwich, they deduce that the real problem with their marriage isn’t the fact that these two people would never date in the real world, but rather that it’s their sex life that needs work. Which leads to the surprisingly small portion of the film revolving around “swinging.” After a wacky montage using alternative sexual lifestyles as punching bags, they find a couple to experiment with.
The man, a lanky Jason Isaacs type, is certainly charming, though there’s no real spark, while the girl, a toothy brunette with a contagious smile, is only slightly too aggressive. Neither are given a spotlight in the narrative and vanish shortly after, only serving as a catalyst for an inorganic breakup that forms the crux of the film. Should we be rooting for these two to get back together? In addition to their lack of chemistry, it seems mostly odd that they would find these swinging couples, all with happy relationships, as strange to them. This is naturally because 'Swinging,' for all its missteps, is yet another conservative Hollywood comedy that strictly behaves in accordance with the hetero-normative white hegemony of marriage. Anything other than a loving, monogamous relationship is unusual, even threatening, and mocked accordingly by the narrative. It seems as if the writers learned everything they need to know about couples from “Married… With Children” repeats, the film mixing vulgarity with its rather retrograde sexual politics -- men are promiscuous pigs, and women are deer-in-headlights dumb.
To hammer home the “Married” association, TV actor Jonathan Silverman, quipping like an open mic night at the Improv, is the best friend character. He has one funny joke, where he jeopardizes his dentistry by falling for a woman who has amazing teeth, but the joke is repeated so often, usually with a giant x-ray in the background, that it immediately loses its flavor, like a piece of chewed gum left for a month on a subway seat. And speaking of mismatched couples, the film cruelly traps Melissa George in a fright wig and makes her fret while wearing breast pumps as a comedic punctuation in order to convince the audience that this borderline supermodel beauty would ever tolerate a puffy has-been like Silverman.
One of comic highlights of the film is the presence of Jerry Stiller, here playing the (inexplicably American) father of Freeman’s character. The film cynically attempts to earn sympathy points by featuring Stiller as being a part of a long-happily married couple, but it does so by spotlighting him as yet another wacky-old-man comic relief character who constantly cracks wise in an inappropriate manner, usually involving a delicate, warm disappointment with the son he loves. And yet, how are we to find affection for this character when the film finds it funny to have him (again, inexplicably) take a cucumber to the crotch, just as it squeaks out of Mandy Moore’s apparently aerodynamically-sound vagina? Not funny in any context. [F]