Directed by: Felicity Morris
Distributed by: Netflix
Written by Anna Harrison
Modern dating sucks. It’s a vicious cycle of downloading Tinder (or your drug of choice), getting nauseated at the pickup lines, the unappealing profiles, and the sheer horniness, deleting the app out of disgust, feeling sad and lonely as you piddle around your empty house and make meals for one, redownloading the app, then immediately remembering why you deleted it in the first place, deleting it once more, then rinsing and repeating. “The Tinder Swindler” takes the concept of Tinder being shitty to an entirely different level as it exposes the machinations of Simon Leviev, born Shimon Haymut, as he swindles his matches out of hundreds of thousands of dollars; director Felicity Morris, through a combination of interviews and reenactments, creates a rather shallow but compulsively watchable documentary which reinforces my belief that love is dead, the modern world is terrible, dating apps are divine punishment, et cetera.
The three swindled women featured in the documentary (the Norwegian Cecilie Fjellhøy and Pernilla Sjöholm, and Dutch Ayleen Charlotte) all share similar stories: they swiped right on Simon, who was posing as the heir to LLD Diamonds, and found themselves flown on private jets to five-star hotels, where Simon would spend “Succession” levels of money before claiming he was caught up in some diamond business scandal and needed to use their credit cards so his enemies couldn’t catch him. The expenses would pile up, Simon would send fake checks, and then never speak to the women again, ghosting to the max.
The ease with which Simon swindled the women featured is simultaneously baffling and understandable: baffling because how could he have won them over so quickly that they were willing to send him over large sums of money, understandable because in a world where we are reduced to the briefest of scrolls and maybe a right swipe if we’re lucky, isn’t it nice to have someone who seems to see beyond the profile? Who gives you the time of day, who won’t leave you on read? Actual human connection is so rare on dating apps, and most especially Tinder, that even the facsimile of love can be convincing.
Okay, yes, it’s very hard not to judge these women, even though they are the victims. I admit it, I judged them, and my cold, dead heart recoiled at the flowers, the private jets, the declarations of love—I even texted my friends while watching, “If I ever put a heart next to my future boyfriend’s name on my phone… kill me” (which is honestly probably more of an indictment of my emotional distance than anything else, but what can you do). But director Morris knows that we’re all sitting on our couch at home rolling our eyes at Cecilie and Pernilla, and she makes you feel bad about it: “I never understood this, how you can blame a victim,” Pernilla says through her tears. The accusations of gold digging and worse hurled at Cecilie and Pernilla have a nasty misogynistic streak, and while Morris makes us reconsider our prior judgements, their more sinister undertones are left unexplored, and the audience may feel bad, but we’re never implicated: “Tinder Swindler” lacks the teeth necessary to bite into the more interesting tidbits presented. The gender dynamics at play on Tinder, and in “The Tinder Swindler,” are the world’s most tangled earbud cords, impossible to unravel but still worthy of the attempt, and Morris barely even tries.
“The Tinder Swindler” would be right at home on Discovery and Lifetime; there’s nothing that special about how it’s presented, nothing remarkable in the way it’s shot, and is really only elevated by its salacious subject matter and because, while we may not have been flown to Greece for the weekend by our prospective matches, we all know what it’s like to have a Tinder date turn out to be different than the images on your phone. The second half of the film, as Cecilie exacts her revenge by taking her story to a newspaper and meets Pernilla and Ayleen along the way (Ayleen in particular has a most excellent revenge on Simon), is the more interesting, as we watch Norwegian and Israeli journalists come together to track down Simon, and deserves more screen time than it got—how did Simon become such a good grifter? How are his business associates involved? How much were the journalists and police aware of when Ayleen was swindling the swindler himself? What about the threats made by Simon against his former flames? etc.—but is overshadowed by the first half’s dedication to building up the allure of this man even though from the get-go we are disinclined to be sympathetic towards him. The story of Cecilie, Pernilla, and Ayleen taking matters into their own hands is much more powerful than the tales of Simon using them for money; once the women get agency, everything becomes much more dynamic. Hell hath no fury, after all.
Despite the original article published (which weaves together written and aural words to great effect), actual punishment via the law has been in short supply for Simon. The justice of “The Tinder Swindler” comes from its mere existence: it’s a warning beacon. Even if Cecilie, Pernilla, and Ayleen suffered, no other woman will have to. Maybe. Whether that is actually justice remains to be seen, seeing as Simon recently signed onto a talent agency and seems to be doing just fine, while those he left in his wake are still paying off their debts.
The moral implications of that, however, will have to wait for another day.
“The Tinder Swindler” Trailer
“The Tinder Swindler” is available to stream on Netflix.