Thursday, January 24, 2013

Movie – Empire Records (1995)

Empire Records is one of those movies I watched back in the day not expecting much of anything and ended up being pleasantly surprised by it.  It probably didn’t change anyone’s lives, but it is a solidly entertaining movie.  It features a large ensemble cast of familiar faces, especially if you are a fan of TV crime dramas of the 2000s.  Among the cast is Liv Tyler, who although not born in Maine, has credited her upbringing here for keeping her grounded in Hollywood.  This film is one of the very first that she ever did.

Empire Records covers 24 hours in the life of a record store and its young employees.  There are quite a few storylines in the film.  I will try to give a quick mention to each.  Joe Reaves (Anthony LaPaglia) manages the record store the film takes its name from.  He entrusts the night deposit to Lucas (Rory Cochrane) who finds out the owner of the independent store is going to sell it to a big store chain.  Instead of taking the day’s receipts to the bank, Lucas takes them and gambles them away in a stupid attempt to make enough money to buy the store.

The next morning the store’s employees start to show up.  Among them is Mark (Ethan Embry) who finds out what Lucas did, but covers for him.  Joe can’t spend the time to track down what happened because he’s got to prepare for an appearance from a musical star, Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield), who is coming to the store to perform.  One of the female employees, Corey Mason (Liv Tyler), has decided she is going to lose her virginity before going to Harvard in the fall and that Rex is the one she is going to lose it to.  She asks for advice from her more experienced counter-mate Gina (Renee Zellweger in an early career appearance).  She tells Corey to go for it.  It turns out Gina is dating an older musician named Berko (Coyote Shivers).  Gina would really like to sing in a band, maybe even Berko’s, but she has never had the courage to try.  FYI – at the time of filming Shivers was married to Bebe Buell, Liv Tyler’s mother, so even though he is only about ten years older than Liv, he was her stepfather. 

A third young woman, Debra (Robin Tunney) shows up for work, goes into the bathroom, and shaves her head.  At first the other kids are thrown by this, and also by the new bandages on her wrists, but they seem to shrug and go about their day, except for A.J. (Johnny Whitworth) who digs deeper.  A.J.’s not interested in Debra romantically, though; he pines for Corey.  When Manning does arrive, accompanied by his agent Jane (Debi Mazar), he turns out to be an asshole of the first order.  Needless to say, Corey’s plan for how she would give her virginity to Rex does not go as she fantasized.  She takes it out on Gina, and in retaliation Gina seduces Rex to show how easy it is.  Things escalate with the two girls revealing many things that they know about each other.  Meanwhile, this is preventing A.J. from telling Corey how he feels.  Mixed in with all of this is the world’s worst shoplifter (Brendan Sexton III) visiting the store.  (Reportedly, a pre-stardom Tobey Maguire also had a role in this film, but his scenes were cut for the theatrical release.)

So let’s see, we’ve got a store about to be sold to a soulless chain, a lost day’s receipts, a visit from a musical star who’s a jerk, an attempt to lose virginity, a breakdown between two friend’s relationship, a girl who may have tried to commit suicide, an unrequited and unspoken love, a woman who wants to be a singer, a shoplifter causing some disruptions, and a harried manager trying to stay on top of everything, all while having the owner breathing down his neck about the receipts from the day before.  Will it all work out for the best?  Surprisingly for Hollywood, not all of it does.

In a movie about a record store there is obviously going to be a lot of music played and the soundtrack for this film reads like a who’s who of 90’s bands – The Gin Blossoms, Cracker, Dishwalla, Better Than Ezra, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Throwing Muses, The Cranberries, Daniel Johnston, GWAR, Sponge, and many others.  Caulfield does his own singing, and Zellweger, long before she was ever in the musical Chicago, sings on screen in this film.

This movie has some good laughs, but it also has a lot of heart to it.  Everyone really functions as a large, dysfunctional, extended family, with all the attendant laughs and tears that go along with it.  If this sounds interesting, then I recommend you give this film a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. This was a film that if you were a teenager in the 90s like I was that everyone was required to see.

    I've seen it several times and I was probably one of the people that didn't really think much of the film at the time it was on TV. With the exception of Lucas, Debra, and Joe. Most of the characters were quite lame.

    Now that I'm older and I've seen it again, it's a film that doesn't hold up for me at all. It's still stuck in the 90s and it will never get better. It contains some of the things about that decade I didn't like. Whiny characters and unrealistic moments. Plus, it made miss the world of the record store. It's a film that lacks any substance though there's a few moments that I did like such as the appearance from GWAR.

  2. When I was a kid there were some shows on in the afternoon after I got home from school. I used to watch them and laugh like crazy. Many years later I stumbled onto a marathon of one of them and sat down to watch it out of happy nostalgia. Unfortunately, it didn't take me long to realize that the show was really stupid. It kind of ruined my childhood memories of it.

    In regards to Empire Records, I was already well into adulthood when I saw it, I expected it to be bad, and when it wasn't I ended up being pleasantly surprised. When I watched it years later I didn't have the childhood to adulthood letdown because I already knew what it was. Yes, it's a capsule of the 90s, but I kind of like that about it.

    FYI - if you want to see more GWAR in a 90s film then check out SFW sometime. They appear in a dream sequence or two.

  3. I've seen SFW which was a better film. Yet, I think I'll remember GWAR more from the videos that appeared on Beavis & Butt-head. Not the new version of the show.