Weekend Movies: Five Reasons to Watch Empire Records (1995)
The recent uptick in 90s nostalgia is real, man. Part of that might come from the fact that in terms of entertainment, everyone is either dissatisfied with the same old crap getting rehashed/updated (I firmly believe that Clueless can’t be remade because it’s fine as is and a complete time capsule of that era) or they want the comfort of the good old days. Which, frankly, is fine by me when it comes to some of the glorious 90s cinema we were lucky enough to get. Exhibit A: Empire Records (1995), a stunning snapshot of life in a record store on one really eventful day. Here are five reasons to watch it this weekend.
#1 – Corporate buyouts
One of the larger plot points of this film is the looming buyout of the titular Empire Records – a sweet, welcoming indie shop with quirky employees and personality coming out the wazoo – by the larger record chain Music Town. I feel like this is a thinly-veiled slam against Media Play in the 90s, but really, it’s a recycling of the 80s film trope of having to save the youth center. This time, instead of skiing competitions, we get Lucas (Rory Cochrane) gambling and fast-talking his way into making sure The Man doesn’t get his mitts on the little guy. If that sounds like snark, it’s not – I love this trope so goddamned much.
#2 – Rex Manning is still relevant
Where there’s a teen idol – no matter the age or era that has passed – there will always be hangers-on. Nothing is more painfully honest than this truth, as presented to us by the way people cling to Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield). You still see it to this day, with the way people fawn all over the Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block, and the Spice Girls (while we’re at it, can we please fucking please admit to ourselves that that Spice Girls aren’t that great?). And yet these past figures will continue to ride that wave of success – and excess – as far as they can. Watching Rex is a bit of an uncomfortable experience in the renewed era of hero-worship long after the peak of success. Keep that in mind.
#3—Joe’s a really sweet boss
For every boss from hell – for every person who’s made staff cry, tight-fistedly denied raises, and barked that your job should come before your family (those are always fun) – you have at least one Joe in your back pocket: someone who’s got your unconditional loyalty. Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) is good to his employees: he cares, and he makes a point to learn and accept the quirks of everyone’s personalities. If you’ve got a Joe in your past, you’ll get those happy feelings of having a really good boss. There’s a reason the Empire Records crew is so loyal.
#4 – The soundtrack
Oh man, this soundtrack was life when I was a teenager. The best part: for every song that made the official soundtrack, there’s like three or four that didn’t make the official cut (that’s what Spotify playlists are for, my friends). I double dog dare you not to dance along while watching this film. The wild part though comes in the realization of how much music is packed so effortlessly into his film – it really is like being in a record store. You just want to groove along while doing your thing (shout out to my friends that did time in Media Play). That’s a fun way to spend your workday, and the film really nails that sense of good tunes getting you through a mundane workday.
#5 –Perfect casting
Shout out to Gail Levin, who did the casting for this film: she hit every role perfectly. Liv Tyler is sweet and really apple pie good girl Corey; Renee Zellweger has a fantastic edge as bad girl Gina; LaPaglia is everyone’s favorite boss Joe; Johnny Whitworth’s A.J. is equal parts funny and charming (the gluing of the change to the floor is a personal favorite moment); Brendan Sexton III nails the pissy teenage delinquent role Warren; Ethan Embry is so out-there as Mark that no one else could have played him (coincidentally, head on over to his Twitter page – THIS is the guy we need to run for office); Caulfield’s Rex Manning is delightfully washed up and displeased. The highlight for me is Robin Tunney, who manages to look vulnerable and edgy simultaneously. Plus, everyone wanted to be Lucas. This movie is magic, I tells ya. Magic. And that cast’s chemistry is a huge reason why.
Empire Records is available for streaming on Netflix.