In this PG-13-rated dramedy, a group of twenty-something friends (Fonda, Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Matt Dillon), most of whom live in the same apartment complex, search for love and success in grunge-era Seattle.
Though the story doesn't boast as much character as Crowe's '80s youth-defining work in Say Anything and the dialogue doesn't ring as resonantly as with his much more polished '90s rom-com masterwork Jerry Maguire, Singles' acting and setting provide a whipsmart and smart-ass look at a semi-modern romance. Plus, you get to see a Point of No Return-era Bridget Fonda, Dead Again-era Campbell Scott, Born on the Fourth of July-era Kyra Sedgwick, and Drugstore Cowboy-era Matt Dillon giving it their youthful all before taking on some more career-defining adult roles. Best of all, there's that soundtrack. Pearl Jam's "State of Love and Trust" - released exclusively for the motion picture - ranks among the band's best works.
Bottom line: Grunge Match
Cliff: "Look, Janet you know I see other people still. You do know that don't you?"
Janet: "You don't fool me."
Cliff: "Janet, I could not be fooling you less".
It's funny, really. You get movies every once in a while that people think are a perfect demonstration of what a city is like. I mean, leave aside the whole "Seattle sound" aspect of this film. (Though it's worth noting that Eddie Vedder is actually from San Diego, originally.) There's the coffee and the quirky, and that's pretty much what people think of when they think of Seattle, though it doesn't rain anywhere near often enough. In fact, I'm not sure it rains at all in this movie, and that's flatly impossible for Seattle no matter what season the film was set in. I thought Cameron Crowe knew the city well enough to know that. But anyway, though the term is never used, one of the characters is even a barista. Because single young adults in Seattle. My sister actually moved to Washington about a month before this movie came out, and I think everyone she knew thought this movie showed what her life would be.
Most of our film's characters live in one of those quirky apartment buildings. Eighteen apartments, all one-bedroom. There's Steve Dunne (Campbell Scott), a traffic engineer or some such, trying to convince the Mayor of Seattle that what the city needs is a train to replace all those cars. His best friend, Janet Livermore (Bridget Fonda), is the barista, and she is in a relationship with musician/jack-of-all-trades Cliff Poncier (Matt Dillon), whose band is just about to break out. Any minute now. Though Cliff treats Janet like dirt. Steve gets into a relationship with Linda Powell (Kyra Sedgwick), whom he meets at a bar where Alice in Chains is playing. Naturally. There are a few other minor characters, including Debbie (Sheila Kelly) and her adventures in video dating (her cameraman is Tim Burton!), but it's really the two couples who are the heart of the film. Despite the fact that the title implies that these people are single.
Actually, it's kind of a weird middle ground that our society hasn't entirely picked up on. Legally, I'm single. I've been in a relationship for ten years and am going to have a baby literally like any minute now, but it doesn't count. We're going to have to fill out special paperwork at the hospital and everything. Okay, both couples break up through the third act of the film, but Janet and Cliff are together at the beginning--poor Janet--and the first act is about how Steve and Linda get together. Is it nitpicking of me to point it out? A bit. It's certainly true that we aren't supposed to be thinking about these characters as anything but single--even, I think, when they're together. After all, they could break up at any minute! But of course, we know that's true of married couples, too. It's just that it's more complicated legally. I consider my relationship more steady than several marriages I know, but I still get to check the box marked "single" on all those forms.
And seriously, Janet could do better. I know we're supposed to think that Cliff is improving, but who's to say that he won't just look at her in six months and think, "Yeah, bored now"? Yes, as I said, that's always a possibility, but with the way he's treated her until she seems to actually have figured out how to live without him, it seems more likely than not. That's probably the thing that bothers me most about this movie, even more than the fact that I frankly don't like Kyra Sedgwick all that much. It's that we're supposed to applaud that Cliff is really making an effort. However, from what we've seen of Cliff, I don't think we've seen that the effort will stick, and that bothers me. I think we're supposed to think he's better than nothing, better than letting Janet be alone, and I don't think that's true. Even if there were no other single men in all of Seattle--and hells, I think Eddie Vedder was single at the time!--better for Janet to be single than to let Cliff do the same thing to her again.
Or she could have moved to Olympia, which is a more interesting city anyway. Because the thing is, Seattle is kind of the way it appears in this film. It's relatively edgy, and there was at the time a lot of good music coming out of the city. However, it's also fairly . . . well, it's a real city. The mayor in the movie (Seattle resident Tom Skerritt) isn't interested in the train, because this is an idea that gets proposed all the time and never works. (I do think we need better commuting options between here, Tacoma, Seattle, and points north, but I'm not sure the "supertrain" is it.) There are people who are baristas and so forth, but there are also plenty of people with office jobs. (Though limited state jobs; state law holds that all departments are headquartered down here.) The movie is a lot more conventional than I think it thinks it is, a lot more conventional than I thought it was when I saw it twenty years ago. But isn't that always the way?