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Guys Will Be Guys

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

I read an interview awhile back with Liam Gallagher, the beetle-browed lead braggart for Brit-pop wondergroup Oasis. He was explaining to the American interviewer the English colloquialism "lad," a masculine term of affection for the sort of bloke who likes to hang out, drink beer, watch football, and goof around. Sound familiar? Of course it does. We have them here too, but we call them something else--guys.

Examining the virtues and pitfalls of guyhood has become kind of a '90s pop-culture obsession, from sitcoms like Men Behaving Badly to movies like Chasing Amy. The key to making guys appealing--instead of just boorish, as they are in most beer commercials--is making them well-intended enough to be lovable and clueless enough to be excused for their many transgressions (which usually involve relationships with women).

The guys in Swingers (1996, R), actors and comedians hacking around on the fringes of Hollywood, meet that standard. The low-budget charmer--a debut for both its writer, Jon Favreau (who also stars), and director, Doug Liman--centers on a group of pals making little headway either professionally or romantically. When one is dumped by a longtime girlfriend, his buddies try to console him in the various ways guys do--late-night trips to Vegas, earnest talks at the diner, parties with models in the Hollywood hills. Dead-on in its portrait of guy angst and spiked with faux-L.A. slang, Swingers is loose, funny, and fun.

In some ways, it recalls another classic guy movie, Barry Levinson's Diner (1982, R), which could be credited (or blamed) with inaugurating the modern guy era. As a gang of high school buddies reconvenes in Baltimore circa 1959 for a friend's wedding, they talk endlessly, obsessively, and hilariously about the kinds of things that have become a staple of Seinfeld and its imitators: menu items, what counts as sex and what doesn't, sports trivia, movies, and, of course, the many mysterious ways of women. The film is notable both because it launched the careers of its sterling cast (Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Steve Guttenberg, Tim Daly, Paul Reiser, Ellen Barkin), and because it remains the best thing any of them (or, for that matter, director Levinson) has ever done.

Forty years earlier, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were bantering with each other and being baffled by women in much the same way in their Road movies, memorable both for Hope's comedic gifts (he used to be funny, you know) and for Crosby's bemused cool. One of the best is The Road to Morocco (1942), which has the hapless heroes battling Middle Eastern royalty.

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