1990's, Allan Moyle, Anthony LaPaglia, Brendan Sexton III, Comedy, Coming-of-Age, Coyote Shivers, Debi Mazar, Drama, Empire Records, Ethan Embry, James 'Kimo' Wills, Johnny Whitworth, Liv Tyler, Maxwell Caulfield, Renée Zellweger, Robin Tunney, Rory Cochrane
The wonderful Gabriela asked me to take part in a blogathon to pay tribute to Maxwell Caulfield.I thought of the perfect film for it and that film is the coming of age comedy/drama Empire Records. My entry is a day early but I don’t think anyone will mind.
Set over a day in the lives of the workers at the titular music store, Empire Records is a 90’s movie with plenty of good music and filled with many stars on the brink of making it. Plus, you’ve got offbeat characters and fun antics so it’s a great way to spend an hour and a half. Don’t go in expecting anything revolutionary and you’ll have a good time with this cult classic that’s stature has grown in recent years.
Empire Records is a funky little independent record store in Delaware, that provides a solace for the teenagers who work there under the caring eye of store manager Joe(Anthony LaPaglia). The store prides itself on being independent and doing its own thing, not complying with corporate pressure to be mainstream, but all that could be in jeopardy. The sarcastic and wisdom dispensing employee Lucas( Rory Cochrane) discovers that there is a plan to sell the store and for it to be changed into a soulless music chain. Determined for this not to happen, Lucas takes the store’s takings and heads to Atlantic City. He plans to increase the money at the casino, yet his luck runs out quickly and the money is gone thanks to his harebrained scheme. The next day, the store opens for the arrival of has been former teen idol Rex Manning(Maxwell Caulfield), whose attempting some form of a comeback. It’s here that the rest of the characters are introduced. We have beautiful over achiever Corey(Liv Tyler) , a good girl who wants to lose her virginity to celebrity crush Rex, sexy and sassy Gina( Renée Zellweger) who goes through men like clothes, artistic A.J( Johnny Whitworth) who is in love with Corey but hasn’t had the courage to tell her, wild eyed stoner Mark(Ethan Embry) and troubled Deb(Robin Tunney), who announces herself by shaving her head within minutes of entering the store. Also appearing later are Deb’s on/off rockstar boyfriend Berko( Coyote Shivers)and Mark’s fellow stoner Eddie(James ‘Kimo’ Wills) .
Once Joe notices that the money is gone, he is furious and waits for Lucas to show his face. After animosity following Lucas resurfacing, Joe attempts to explain a plan that could stop the store becoming mainstream while still nursing anger towards the well meaning but careless Lucas. It seems that the money Lucas lost was going to be used to buy the store outright by Joe. Meanwhile ups and downs within the store flesh out the eventful day before them. A whole host of things take place in the twenty fours like a belligerent thief going by the pseudonym Warren Beatty( Brendan Sexton III) causing havoc, Corey and Gina falling out over their respective reputations, Deb’s feelings of alienation and indifference and the appearance of the washed up Rex who has seen better days and isn’t blessed with the kindest of egos . Above it all, feelings are aired and the misfits begin to band together to stop the takeover in an attempt to sock it to the man.
Allan Moyle is on director’s duties and he seems to have a good grasp of teen angst and how music is always there for us. Complete with messages of fighting the system and being yourself even when you’ve got problems, Moyle injects Empire Records with a certain nostalgia value and the script sizzles with great one liners and plenty of hip dialogue. Moyle keeps the pace flowing as more crazy events mount up within the store, many of them overlapping and entertaining. Empire Records is far from flawless( parts feel rushed and sometimes there is one music montage too many). It isn’t exactly going for being the most original movie out there, but I think therein lies the appeal of Empire Records. Sure it has foibles and the characters are largely archetypes, but it’s not attempting to be a game changer and is going for showing teenagers and their problems/ antics shared with each other and the audience. It’s got a good nature to it and is hard to resist for its sheer quirkiness and witty nature. You get the feeling that for all the angst and eventfulness in the character’s lives, that there’s some light out there for them at the end when surrounded by friends and music. Fun can be gleaned from seeing certain stars at the beginnings of their careers in this comedy drama( chiefly Renée Zellweger and Liv Tyler) that has earned itself its place as a cult classic. Plus it provides one entertaining capsule into the 90’s complete with the fashions, records, VHS and lingo that dazzle. And you have to love the soundtrack that truly singles it out as a 90’s movie of the highest order.
A game cast fit into their arguably archetypal parts that are well suited to them in an offbeat and idiosyncratic way. As the main sense of parental authority that isn’t stuffy or condescending is Anthony LaPaglia, who combines both a fatherly charm and a gruff visage to the craziness around him. He’s a softie at heart though and functions wonderfully as the person who provides a sense of fun and respect towards his workers who all look up to him. Much humour and astute observation comes courtesy of Rory Cochrane as the witty yet unlucky Lucas. His deadpan humour and almost mystical advice to his friends is both in check and makes for most of the movie’s laughs. A luscious Liv Tyler is on hand to present pressured angst and a want to be more than just a goodie two shoes, coupled with notes of humour and sadness. Her blend of winsome appeal and longing is employed excellently here. Renée Zellweger in an early role aces it as her best friend who has a bad reputation but is a lot more than meets the eye. Zellweger savours the sassy one-liners that her part presents and delivers them with a wicked edge. Johnny Whitworth has the right attitude for the part of lovesick A.J, who can produce great art but it seems is unable to fully express his feelings of romance, while the main points of comedy come from the crazy and uninhibited turn by Ethan Embry as the stoner. Robin Tunney rounds out the main group with a decidedly dark yet acerbically funny performance as a girl crying out for help but also letting loose and just holding nothing back.
And we now come to the man of the hour that is Maxwell Caulfield. He’s splendidly cast as the has been pop star whose attempting a comeback yet is never taken seriously by anyone. Caulfield captures the sleazy and entitled attitude of someone who doesn’t realise that their heyday is in fact over and that he’s an embarrassment full of arrogance and swagger. Complete with bouffant hair and bad spray tan, he’s a funny figure to witness and one that Caulfield plays very well. It’s really evident that Maxwell Caulfield is having a ball with this peach of a part. I enjoyed seeing a young Brendan Sexton III as the surly and amateur thief who begins to feel at home inside the confines of the store. In support there is Debi Mazar as his personal assistant who actually can’t stand him and sides with the store, plus the music stylings of Coyote Shivers and slacker humour from James ‘Kimo’ Wills.
So while it has its moments that detract from the overall product, Empire Records is still an entertaining film to watch, mainly for the performances and of course the music