The idea of sexual swinging, or committed couples swapping partners, opens up all sorts of rich avenues for exploration of feeling, but the London-set comedy Swinging With the Finkels does so little of substance or sincerity with the subject that one starts to yearn for the comparative honesty of a lonely hearts drama with a forlorn guy swigging a beer and staring at a computer screen. In fact, the movie evinces no particular reason for existing other than to seemingly provide its pleasant but half-heartedly invested cast with paychecks, and perhaps serve as the answer for the trivia question of in which film Mandy Moore mock-masturbates with a cucumber.
Ellie (Moore) and Alvin (Martin Freeman) are a young, married white-collar couple seemingly suffering from a bit of the seven-year itch. Friends Peter (Jonathan Silverman) and Janet (Melissa George) are little help, the journey into parenthood having thrown something of a speed bump into their relationship. Seemingly because one attempt at “spicing it up” in the bedroom went awry (she wore sexy lingerie and lit mood candles, and he donned a fireman’s costume… ha!), Ellie and Alvin make the (entirely il)logical jump to swinging, eventually settling on a seemingly normal couple (Angus Deayton and Daisy Beaumont). After the Saturday night deed is done, things proceed but, magically, don’t get immediately better for Ellie and Alvin. What’s a committed but sexually frustrated couple to do?
Swinging With the Finkels is supposedly rated R, but it’s quite possibly the tamest R in recent memory, especially for a film dealing with matters sexual. Director Jonathan Newman’s movie is definitely the “fem” version of a swingers’ tale, with relationship mechanics valued much more over any possible prurient interests. Problematically, though, it also exists chiefly as a collection of nipped sitcom contrivances, from Ellie’s theatrically gay coworker (who gives her the initial idea of partner-swapping) and a montage of “zany” bad fits who respond to Ellie and Alvin’s sex ad to a forced-uncomfortable sequence in which an old person (in this case Ellie’s grandfather, played by Jerry Stiller) dispenses sex advice. Wow, how novel.
The script digs into none of these scenes with great aplomb, and it additionally requires Ellie and Alvin’s friends to nonsensically implode their marriage by having Peter tell Janet about a one-off affair, merely so there is some minor element of introduced contrast to Ellie and Alvin’s plight. Two grossly overwritten office pals of Alvin also serve this function, and an extremely flat shooting style and hammy music cues additionally do the material no favors. Somewhat unexpectedly, The Finkels manages to make both stanch, devoted monogamy and quiet singlehood look attractive — no small (or purposeful) accomplishment for a movie about swinging and its churned-up feelings.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Swinging With the Finkels comes to DVD presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional English subtitles. Under motion menus, divided into 10 chapters, the DVD’s supplemental features consist only of its trailer and a 10-minute short film, Sex With the Finkels, which apparently served as the movie’s inspiration. So no, Moore fans… there’s no behind-the-scenes interview material about that cucumber scene. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. D+ (Movie) C- (Disc)