THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"SWINGING WITH THE FINKELS"
Mandy Moore and Martin Freeman get ready to swing.
Swinging with the Finkels is a safe movie about a naughty subject. Ellie (Mandy Moore) and Alvin (Martin Freeman) have been married for nine years. The spice has gone out of their marriage. Sex is as boring as it is rare. Alvin has taken to noticing other women, although he denies the desire to be with any of them. The couple tries a few things to reignite the spark. Nothing works. They confess their dissatisfaction to their best friends, Peter (Jonathan Silverman) and Janet (Melissa George), a couple in the midst of their own marital problem. Then, under the suggestion of a colleague, Ellie gets the idea that she and Alvin should “swap” with another couple to liven things up. They hold interviews and eventually find a husband and wife just like themselves. The film tracks what happens after the fateful night when they make their maiden voyage into Swingtown.
If that sounds like the recipe for a raunchy good time...well, like so many “transgressive” comedies (including the recent No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits), this one is kind of afraid to really be about what it claims to be about. In other words, it's all foreplay and no action. The story ultimately delivers a pro-marriage message, and the swinging angle pays off with a predictable “surprise” twist. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with going the conservative route. I just never understand why filmmakers opt for outrageous premises, only to pull back.
A more substantial problem is that the script for Swinging With the Finkels feels like a first draft. A first draft with potential, mind you, but a first draft all the same. There are some genuine laughs in the picture, one or two of them rather large. It's just that many of the comic elements are stock: there's the requisite montage of the Finkels interviewing weird potential partners, a scene where a character is embarrassed when someone walks in during the act of self-pleasure, and a “wacky” Indian supporting character whose accent is played for laughs. I also noticed that the film doesn't show us much of the Finkels' lives outside of their dilemma. Literally every single scene entails people talking about sex – in private, in public, with others, etc. The movie would have greatly benefited from further developing the characters' lives so that we viewed them more three-dimensionally.
Having said all this, I have to admit that Finkels possesses a charming quality that I enjoyed. Moore and Freeman bring solid comic timing to their roles, taking occasionally routine material and punching it up. They do even better with the more sentimental scenes. Their skills give the story a few touching moments that help to ground all the R-rated humor. Melissa George is very good too, in a role that provides her with a big dramatic moment she perfectly plays. Also on board is Jerry Stiller, who cameos as Ellie's grandfather. He delivers the biggest laugh in the picture.
With a less capable cast, Swinging With the Finkels could have been utterly unwatchable. And while it chickens out a bit on its premise, the movie is breezy and pleasant enough. I laughed a bunch of times and enjoyed seeing the actors at work. So, in the end, I'm right down the middle on this one. It's not great, but it's not terrible either. Or, in sexual terms, it doesn't set the bed on fire, but it at least gives you a bit of pleasure.
( 1/2 out of four)
Swinging With the Finkels is rated R for sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.