Empire Records (1995)

Director: Allan Moyle
Run Time: 90 minutes
Review by: Jeanne Edson

How much can happen over the course of just 24 hours? Well, in the mid90s dramady “Empire Records,” five music store employees set out on a crash course in life — losing some of their sweet innocence before rediscovering it all over again. Seemingly the 90s response to the cult classic “The Breakfast Club,” director Allan Moyle subtly pairs tongue-in-cheek lines with a day filled with personal crises that explode on-screen in a brash dialogue of teen angst and the notion that all their lives were leading up to this moment.

Set to a backdrop of mainstream alternative pop/rock that paints a nostalgic glow (aahhh plaid mini skirts, men in turtlenecks and leather jackets, and the impending Y2K), the rag-tag group at “Empire Records” fills all the needed roles for a cliche teen film, but without becoming too predictable. Sweet and squeaky-clean Corey (Liv Tyler) prepares to offer her virginity to her decidedly older celebrity crush (never meet your heroes, kids) only to crack under the weight of rejection and reveal the fissures that have accumulated under years of the pressure of perfection. Sultry Gina (Renee Zellweger, sporting a Bridget Jones-esque ponytail) battles conforming to the box people stuff her into and letting herself break the mold. Lovesick AJ (Johnny Whitworth) is, well, lovesick and still starry-eyed. Punk-rock Debra (Robin Tunney) shows all her emotional scars, both figuratively and literally, within moments of her introduction but delivers some of the most clear-eyed dialogue out of the whole film. Her snark boils over in an exchange with the well-meaning manager Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) who realizes Debra attempted to take her own life.

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Joe: Look, Deb… if you need to talk about anything…


Debra: You gonna fix me, Joe? Fix me. I’ll listen.


Joe: I didn’t mean that. Should I call your mother or something?


Debra: Great. You know, if you find her… could you give me her number, because I’d like to talk to her myself.

The audience is guided through the film by the sage, if not slightly misled, Lucas (Rory Cochrane). He drolly starts the series of events, almost like how one flicks a domino and unleashes the Rube Goldberg machine. Breaking the third wall continually throughout the film, you can’t help but wonder whether he knew the ending to the entire plot all along.

Delightful other wackos round out the cast series of rockers and stoners, amping up the already technicolor cast. Their only guiding light is their stressed-out manager Joe, who is trying to determine if his loyalties lay with his oddball group of employees or with the world of corporate greed. He bristles and shouts but his soft spot for each of the well-meaning teens is clearly visible. From lying to protect Lucas to giving A.J. love advice, Joe inspires a deeper connection with his employees and nudges them back on a path (towards what is anyone’s guess).

Yes, a lot can go on during a day at Empire Records and this film reminds everyone that for every one side of a cassette tape there’s a flip side.

I dare you to watch the film and see if you can resist turning on your record player after and idolly ponder, “What ever happened to GWAR?”

3.5 Stars

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