WARNING: this is a waverider37 review so as usual I take no prisoners in my pursuit of reviewing. Spoilers abound below.
This was a film I discovered last night as my friend loves it to bits and sat us all down to watch it. The 1995 flick shows us a day in the life of the eponymous Empire Records music store, and its assortment of employees. The ensemble cast - which includes very young versions of Renée Zellweger, Liv Tyler and Anthony LaPaglia (to name a few) - are all about keeping Empire Records an independent music store, and are hell bent on keeping it from turning into a branch of the Music Town chain. Things get more hectic when fading teeny-bopper idol Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield) visits for the day to launch his new album.
I went into this movie expecting exactly nothing. I've learned from experience that this is the best way to jump into a new film or game (except if it's a Blizzard game or a M. Night Shyamalan flick). So I had to laugh when Lucas (Rory Cochrane) lost the nine grand that kickstarted the main plot line, as I could see it coming but it still defied my expectation. I'll admit to being a little disappointed throughout some of the rest of the film, but quite enjoying other bits and pieces. Mind, the film was absolutely reeking of the kind of culture from the 1990s that I wasn't much of a part of (given that I was five years old when the film was released).
How to classify such a film? It ain't a comedy, it ain't a drama, yet it's both. It ain't a musical, but it's got music. It's the film equivalent of a "bottle episode" - filmed mostly in one location - so the budget was clearly fairly low, and it's played out sometimes like a serious character study; on the other hand, there are some funny moments and the parts that aren't character study are usually ridiculously irreverent and/or unrealistic. I'll just call it "the nineties in a nutshell".
I'll say it's unrealistic in a lot of places and I'll stick to it, but it's an unrealistic in a Caddyshack kind of way. I'll also say that, in complete contrast, if you treat the characters individually and not as a group, the individual stories can border on hyper-real. What to do! It sent me into a headspin just writing this paragraph. Empire Records - at least, the screenplay - is a film of contradictions that all somehow come together to form a coherent storyline. When you have a bunch of screwed-up people trying to achieve a common goal, I guess anything is possible.
If I try to focus on each of the actors, I'm going to be here all night. So I'll get it out of the way: in general, the acting was quite good. One exception I noted was Robin Tunney as Debra, swinging between believable deadpan snarker and unbelievable chick-with-issues. Fair enough that one is supposed to mask the other, but I saw no evidence apart from her wrist and the fact that it was bashed over my head that she had any issues. On the other hand, Renée Zellweger and Liv Tyler had a pretty amazing scrap-and-make-up about halfway through. You could tell that these two were going far in their acting careers.
OK. Screenplay: good. Acting: good (though not stellar). Direction: not bad. Sometimes it was a bit tricky keeping up, and in fact I lost count of the amount of characters several times simply because on-screen at any one time there was more often than not a glut of them. Set/setting: nineties overload, as I said. Everything else: not too shabby. Having said that, I don't think it'll ever be much more than a cult film (thanks largely to the straight-to-video releasing - apparently due to a clerical error). If cult films aren't your thing, then this is not for you.
It's not an amazing film by today's standards, nor even in 1995's standards. But it's decent. It gave me some chuckles, and it's cemented its place in my collection of "feel-good movies" and "movies to watch when you don't want one that takes itself too seriously". Expect everything, and you'll get nothing; expect nothing, and you'll get everything. 6/10