Last night Ms. Retronaut and I watched 1995′s Empire Records, the story of one of the last independent record superstores (seriously, the place is as big as any of the old Tower Records or Virgin Megastores) and its impending takeover by MusicTown, the personification of “the Man” for the purposes of the narrative. It also concerns itself with the kids that work there, almost all of whom have some sort of unresolved emotional problem, and their long-suffering manager, Joe (Anthony LaPaglia), who is the most understanding boss in movie history.
The cast is made up of actors who were then relatively unknown: Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Rory Cochrane, Robin Tunney, and apparently a young Tobey Maguire, listed as ‘Andre’ in the credits despite us being unable to recall his character (Editor’s note: his scenes were all cut from the movie.) The movie boasts a terrific soundtrack (more on that in a moment), and also has the distinction of being the rare film where Renee Zellweger actually comes across as pretty hot. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that her character is apparently the town slut, which makes her more attractive to me by at least 4X.
Empire Records is one of those laid-back movies that you can turn on for background noise while you are doing other things. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s how I first ran across it, on cable in the mid-90′s. It really doesn’t ask much of you, it only wants to serve up a moderately anti-establishment/self-empowerment message buffered by some post-grunge alt-rock.
The movie would not be nearly as enjoyable without the soundtrack, which deftly mixes the music of the day (Gin Blossoms’ “Til I Hear It From You”, The Cranberries’ “Liar”, Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You”) with older classics (AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood (You Got It)”, Dire Straits’ “Romeo & Juliet.”) The Gin Blossoms were especially prominent – in addition to the single, a large mural of them is featured in the store. Musician Coyote Shivers¹ appears as Berko, one of the store’s employees, and his band plays at the impromptu concert at the end of the film. Renee Zellweger does her own singing during this scene, and she does a pretty good job. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for her dancing, which suggests the way Joe Cocker might move if fed a massive dose of amphetamines. Regardless, it’s entertaining.
Not a great movie, but worth watching if you are folding laundry and feeling nostalgic for the mid-90′s.
¹Coyote Shivers was married to Liv Tyler’s mother Bebe Buell at the time of the filming, making his on-screen co-worker his real-life stepdaughter.