Empire Records

Empire Records

I really could not figure out how they could afford to have the whole staff there at the same time, except if the nightly total is $9,000, I mean, that's pretty good, right. Other unbelievable things include actually every other part of this film. Nothing in this film is believable. It is as if John Hughes tried to make a Hal Hartley film. It is as if Reality Bites were made by NBC instead of MTV. It is as if that reporter who believed all the fake grunge slang made a movie based on it. And if you go in expecting a train wreck, it's quite enjoyable.

You can see the good movie lurking underneath this one. It's usually frustrating when that happens, but for this one, the overwhelming reputation and cult status obscure that. (Context always matters.) The homophobia and sexism should go out the window--honestly, there should be at least three queer people working at that record store--and the characters all deserve more depth. The record store had a great style and the sorta incidental characters helped give it this weird feel of being lived in, but there just wasn't enough of it. We don't feel what these characters feel; we're informed of their feelings. It's shown here and there, but even the "funeral" scene is a contrivance designed to let the characters "naturally" tell us how they feel. There's an implication that if they go that far, obviously they care about each other, but it's too contrived. That makes it feel like "telling." It's corny.

Its other main failing is that it doesn't embrace its unreality. There are so many moments when everyone in the store is dancing or singing or both, and instead of letting the surreal nature of that take hold, the film is careful to show them being "natural" in that no one is synchronized, no one is really moving with purpose or poetry. Compare The Breakfast Club's famous montage or Simple Men's perfect dance scene--both allow for a little coordination, some great editing, and energetic camera work that makes those moments come alive. This is just a wide shot or medium close shot of people moving about awkwardly. Certainly, they would be, but this film is already outside the realm of possibility. It's a missed opportunity to make it beautiful or charming or cool. To some, that's surely the appeal, but even that awkwardness could be choreographed better.

I keep dragging this film, but I really enjoyed it. Most of that is probably derived from the soundtrack, specifically the Gin Blossoms, for whom I have inordinate affection. (I did not realize until I saw in the credits that Marshall Crenshaw co-wrote "Til I Hear It From You," which makes a lot of sense.) Their alt-rock power pop thing is what I need from life sometimes, and also I recently heard their first album's rawer sound and gosh, y'all, "Hey Jealousy" sounds good as top 40 or as soft garage rock, either way. I could also have gone on about the Cranberries, but we've only so much time. Like Reality Bites, this is the 90s incarnate, corporate consumption of alternative soul, and it still works for me. I grew up on this, even if I had never seen this until tonight (I think? the scene with the quarters was super familiar, though). Music is a heavy nostalgia-inducing agent, and the soundtrack wraps the whole film in this haze regardless of whether I'd seen it before.

Kathleen's VHS Collection 2017: 12/100

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