Empire Records (1995)


I was born a decade too late to be able to fully enjoy Empire Records as its target audience, but even so I still love it. Set in the coolest record store ever, it charts the lives of a group of teens over one day as they deal with all their dramas, angst and fun.

What’s also quite impressive though, teen-angst-overdose aside, is that the film manages to set up the stories of a whole bunch of characters and give each one of them a pretty decent arc of progression. I wouldn’t say there’s too much development per se, but you do get a good handle of each character and who they are, and a beginning-middle-and-end to their day.

Our cast of characters include the over-achieving Corey (Liv Tyler) who wants to lose her virginity to a pop-star, the extroverted Gina (Renee Zellwegger) who wants to be taken seriously as much as she has fun, the troubled Deb (Robin Tunney) who has a very important haircut, the promising artist AJ (Johnny Whitworth) who’s determined to tell Corey he loves her, metalhead Mark (Ethan Embry) who’s perpetually happy but also perpetually stoned, Eddie (James “Kimo” Willis) who serves mainly as Mark’s gentle dealer and stoner buddy, and Warren (Brendan Sexton III) a shoplifter who’s name ISN’T FUCKING WARREN!! and finally, our protagonist of sorts, the recently zenned Lucas (Rory Cochrane) who’s trying to fix up a little accident where he gambled away $9000 of the store’s earnings.

Overseeing this tribe of misfits is Joe (Anthony LaPaglia), also apparently the world’s coolest boss, and their day in the store is centred around the album-signing visit of has-been pop-star Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield) and his assistant Jane (Debi Mazar), as well as the store’s imminent takeover by corporate music giant Music Town.

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Music town allows no revealing clothing…

So a shit-tonne of characters to showcase, and how to up the dynamics amongst the crew than to imbue the film with angst. So much delicious angst. And also an awesome, awesome soundtrack of 90s hits to perfectly accompany the mood of each required scene. It’s emotions and anguish are a little silly, yes, but at the same time, this is the rare movie that provides teenagers a chance to see some of their conflicts portrayed without condescension or an immediate need to resolve it. It just validates the shittiness of the teenage years, and moves on to what’s good about them.

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Fake funerals fix everything!

The movie is unassuming and undemanding. It doesn’t have much to say about the world (except music store franchises are bad) and it isn’t out to shock or offend. It’s primary concern is to be a fun teen film and to let you enjoy their company.

And you will. This movie is solely responsible for my years of wanting to work in a music store (hint: it’s nothing like the movie) and it’s always, always capable of busting me out of a bad mood.

I love how product-of-the-90s the film is, and how this one day is just so full of significant moments. I love that the film has not one but two dramatic freakouts with hugs-of-calming right after another. I love how a store like this just simply does not exist anymore and how the nostalgia you feel watching it is completely relevant and genuine even if it’s from a time you don’t specifically remember.

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The breakdown of drug addiction hadn’t been portrayed so harrowingly since Jessie Spano.

This is not the most perfect movie ever, and it’s not particularly insightful or important, and yeah, it’s dated a fair bit and it’s awkward at times, but honestly, I can’t really think of anything to fault the movie with. It’s primary objective is fun and it hits that target dead-centre.

Trailer below, which makes it look a bit vapid. It is, but it isn’t. You’ll understand what I mean when you see it.


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