I Watched Swiped on Netflix and I Still Don’t Know What It’s About
Last night, I sat down with my roommate and we watched Swiped, a movie new to Netflix this month. We got through two thirds of it.
“I don’t know if I can finish this…” my roommate said.
“I’m glad we’re on the same page,” I answered, confusion written in my every word. We turned off the TV and went to bed.
But this morning, I had to come back. I had to see how this mess played out. I’m writing this summary in part to save you the trouble of watching Swiped, but also just in an attempt to understand this artistic object myself.
There’s a lot to unpack.
This is James. He is the protagonist of the film (I think?). He’s a nerd who’s great at coding. James was supposed to go to a fancy school like Harvard or MIT, but instead he’s enrolled at College University, which looks like a mall. James is about to meet his roommate, Lance Black. With a name like that, he has to be cool.
This is Lance. He is a bad person. Their very first night at college, he locks James out of their dorm room so he can have sex. He has money but is empty inside.
This is Hannah. James runs into her on campus, where their awkward expositional conversation reveals that they went to the same high school. In fact, they went to prom together, where James humiliated her by singing about his love for her in front of everyone (by the way, James’ last name is Singer). Hannah is shy and likes to read.
There are so many more characters, each revealing random details meant to justify their strange behavior.
- Sidekick to Lance #1: Has the hair of a ’90s bully, refuses to tell Hannah his name, and refers to his phone as “a 24/7 portal to all the sex that I could ever dream about.”
- Sidekick to Lance #2: Can pick locks because he went to jail?
- Professor Barnes: The teacher for the computer science class that every student (apparently?) needs to take. She allows Lance to skip a pop quiz because he says he’s developing an app for NASA.
- Lance’s Dad: Shows up the day after Lance moves into his dorm to bring the kid his belongings. He then orders Inga, his latest wife, to unpack and organize all Lance’s stuff. Even soulless Lance seems uncomfortable with his father’s behavior.
- James’ Dad: Is absent and unmentioned until halfway through the movie when we find out that James’ parents divorced after his dad “blew through his inheritance.” James, his mother, and sister live with Dad’s rich parents. No one questions why the rich grandparents don’t help James pay for MIT.
- James’ Mom: Is heartbroken by her divorce and apparently broke into her ex-husband’s apartment several times. But someone alludes to her new medication working, so… good for her?
James wants to create an app that makes the world a better place. Lance and his sidekicks want no-strings-attached sex. Team Lance bullies James into developing a hookup app, promising that if he does it, Lance will give him enough money to pay for MIT. James agrees on the condition that his involvement in the app, called Jungle, remains a secret. Rather than any innovative technology, the crux of Jungle seems to be that the terms and conditions prevent users from asking anyone their names.
The app takes off. While James is home for Christmas break, he realizes that his mom is using it. James feels remorse and pulls the plug. Then James hacks into all of the hookup apps to shut them down (because he can just do that). Everyone is very upset.
James surveys his grandparents and some of their elderly friends about sex and dating in the 1950s (during which one grandmother calls another a slut). When James returns to school, he feigns ignorance of Jungle’s technical issues and agrees to get it up and running again. Instead, he uses sleep-inducing tea his mom gave him to knock out Team Lance.
He then runs to Hannah’s sorority house (Hannah’s in a sorority?) and pleads for sanctuary. James promises to make the girls a dating app that meets their needs and Hannah and her sisters reluctantly agree to let him stay. Hannah also reveals that she is shy because she had a stutter as a child.
When Team Lance wakes up, they show up at the sorority house (no idea how they know James is there). The sorority girls meet Team Lance at the door and threaten the boys with various household objects, including a lamp and a hairbrush.
To get revenge on James, Lance contacts his dad’s publicist (we don’t know what Lance’s dad does) to leak the information that James created Jungle. Lance personally tells Hannah about James’ involvement.
Hannah returns to the sorority house just as James is explaining the new app he’s going to create for the girls. Hannah confronts him but everything blows over when James tells the girls to reclaim their power and that no app or invention can match the divine femininity God has bestowed upon them. He also declares his love for Hannah (although he already did that at prom). They hug and kiss. Meanwhile, James’ dad calls his mom to tell her he wants to get back together.
Professor Barnes learns that James developed Jungle and tells Lance he has to take her class over again. Lance is bummed but tells his sidekicks that he’ll probably just change his major to business. Lance then goes to the sorority house to ask one of the sisters if she will go on a real date with him. She seems profoundly uncomfortable but says “maybe.”
We end with Lance walking her to class and jumping from her “maybe” to the prospect of the two of them getting married on the roof of another sorority house.
Who was this movie supposed to be about?
James is the first one we meet. He’s the one who builds the apps. But we’re set up as if we’re going to get a real story out of Lance. We don’t. Did they try to round out Lance’s character more when the actor who plays him (Noah Centineo) found fame with the Netflix movie To All The Boys I Loved Before?
Was Swiped supposed to be a satire?
If they had leaned into the stereotypes and absurdity just a bit further, I think it could have been.
How do the people who worked on this feel?
Whenever I watch a movie or read a book that seems like a total mess, I try to remember how hard it is to create things. And a gig is a gig. God know I have stupid blogs on the Internet that I’m not super proud of…
Should we all just give up?
There are so many brilliant stories to be told that never get funded, never get filmed, never get released. Why did this one get featured on Netflix? Is it a sign that there’s no justice in the world? Is art dead?
No. I don’t think that is the lesson to be learned from Swiped. I would argue that we should take this as a sign that you should follow your dreams and never worry if you’re not good enough, because clearly that doesn’t matter.