Empire Records Reviews
Like many of the coming of age films of the 1980's and 1990's, Empire Records is not a film with too much of a plot. The focus lies in the characters as the audience learns about their personalities as the narrative progresses. And like many films of the kind, Empire Records is important on the basis of the time it was produced in. It is a very 90's film, but the simple fact is that the 90's are over and it just doesn't have a timely appeal anymore.
Many of the themes are underdeveloped. Empire Records has the potential to talk about changing times and use music as an allegory, discussing the changing tastes in music and the way the corporate conglomerate is taking over independent record stores. Instead, this is just left to be a subtextual implication of the narrative which isn't actually explored at all. I kept trying to figure out what Empire Records had to say about its people or if it was making commentary on the youth culture of the 1990's, but in all honesty I kept drawing blanks. I felt the same sense of disillusioned youth whose free spirit collided with a world which was bent on moving forward without them, but that is honestly a cliche of coming of age films. I got a sense of nostalgia from seeing another film of this genre and listening enjoying the soundtrack, but as a genuine narrative piece I couldn't feel intellectually stimulated. The energy of the film makes it easy to watch as does the somewhat humourous tone, but Empire Records is not the insightful coming of age piece that it apparently wants to be. It has moments of charm and some occasional comedic zing along the way, but as a whole the film just doesn't come together in balancing comedy and drama. Neither of them are consistently good.
As well as that, the characters are wasteful. Empire Records has characters such as Joe Reaves who is a father figured to the troubled youths of the story and Deb who is driven to attempted suicide by her desire to stop being invisible, but the relationships these characters share with each other deserve much more than the treatment Allan Moyle gives to them. And since there is a talented collection of actors in the cast you would hope that they would find some way to innovate things, but the fact that the story has no idea how to use them leaves their charms only capable of carrying the film so far. There are a lot of dominant characters in Empire Records who all have their own extensive relevance, and though the film fails to actually do anything with them, it has no problems with piling them up so much that the film becomes uncontrollably confusing to completely keep up with. I enjoyed looking back on the film and seeing accomplished actors like Anthony LaPaglia, Renee Zellwegger and Liv Tyler in early roles, but despite the film providing them a step in the right direction the gimmick of having them all pinned together in the same film did not pay off since it failed to live up to the standards that they are known for.
Still, the film is not bereft of fun. Set in a record store, Empire Records is set up to have a strong soundtrack which is one thing it lives up to. The music is very energetic and captures the spirit of its decande easily, giving the feature the energy that it needs to keep moving along and brigthen up the spirits of whatever viewers may find fondness in the material. Though it is mainly the cast who really carry Empire Records to any level of success.
Anthony LaPaglia is the standout of the cast. Being the one sensible thinking amid a crowd of lost youths, Anthony LaPaglia naturally gives off a feeling of being a paternal character even if the story doesn't support his efforts in doing so. He conveys a tense nature and looks towards the other characters with a genuine sense of care for them, interacting with them as equals. Though hampered by the script, Anthony LaPaglia proves to be the one actor who sufficiently develops his characters across the narrative and therefore makes a stand as a truly talented actor. Anthony LaPaglia's dramatic charms are a particular asset to Empire Records.
Liv Tyler also delivers a strong effort. With all the glorious beauty of one of her youngest performances, Liv Tyler brings a charming attitude to the part while also adding a sense of shattered innocence to the dramatic elements of the film. She is able to channel her emotions at any instant she deems appropriate, and though the narrative may oscillate awkwardly between different kinds of drama she has no problem keeping up with it. Liv Tyler provides an effective insight into the dramatic talents that would flourish in the succeeding years and is able to elevate the credibility of Empire Records in the process.
Renee Zellweger also makes a stand. Arguably the most notorious cast member of Empire Records as the one of them all who would go on to win an Academy Award out of multiple nominations, Renee Zellweger is perhaps the most interesting to look back on. Bringing a natural teenage charm to her role while retaining the critically acclaimed dramatic talents she would become known for, Renee Zellweger remains notable in Empire Records for sharing a powerful chemistry with the surrounding actors and for having the essence of a genuine free spirit. She has proven many times to work well in both comedy and drama, and Empire Records makes use of this since she adheres to both themes whenever the material calls on her to do so. Renee Zellweger is great to look back on.
Having just seen Johnny Witworth deliver an atrocious performance in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, it is refreshing to see that in a much earlier role he still had some passionate charm and charisma to give to the world of cinema. He has a handsome appeal and naturally energetic charm. And Robin Tunney offers a dark edge to the material while Maxwell Caulfield perfectly captured the self-obsessed and deluded charms of Rex Manning.
Brendan Sexton III easily captures the nature of a lost youth, but during some of the more dramatic moments in the film he doesn't seem to grasp the edge that he wants and instead comes off as feeling artificial. And sometimes, it still feels like he is trying to be funny in scenes that should be dramatic which creates an unfortunate tonal imbalance. So Brendan Sexton III doesn't rank alongside the standards of the others around him.
So Empire Records boasts a talented cast and a groovy soundtrack, but its lack of balance between comedy and drama, underdeveloped themes and lack of direction in establishing any sense of meaning ensures that it is little more than a stylish distraction.
"Empire Records" did poorly at the box office and received generally negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes consensus was: "Despite a terrific soundtrack and a strong early performance from Renee Zellweger, Empire Records is mostly a silly and predictable teen dramedy." Roger Ebert called the film a "lost cause," but presciently wrote that some of the actors might have a future in other, better films; LaPaglia, Cochrane, Embry, Zellweger, Tyler and Tunney all went on to achieve significantly greater fame. Despite its poor box office performance, the film has established something of a cult classic status. I never saw this when it came out in 1995 and to be honest it feels very 90s dated when seeing it today. It´s more or less a 90s version of "The Breakfast Club", but doesn´t have the script, storyline, acting nor general set up as the predecessor. The characters are so very stereotypical and put together via "Teen Drama characters for Dummies" and their bratty/selfcentered attitude is just over the top and yet has Allan Moyle tried to make them "indie" and cool kids which fails in my point of view. The film never really makes you believe in any of the characters compared to for example Cameron Crowe´s excellent "Singles". It´s a stage production more or less and that is too obvious. Some solid songs on the soundtrack, but this only becomes a footnote in the teen drama genre. Trivia: The film was severely edited in post-production, removing three significant characters and up to 40 minutes of film. The story was also condensed down from occurring over two days to a single day. That might be part of the problem so to speak.
- I have seen this one many, many times and still find it entertaining. It's amazing how many of the cast went on to have really successful careers. A fun movie definitely worth checking out.
Best role for Renee Zellweger and Liv Tyler. And very young Brandon Sexton.
Wish I could have worked in such a great store back in the day!