Big corporate Music Town is bulldozing onto the scene and looking to take over Empire Records, the independently owned record store that houses a misfit crew of employees all searching for answers. Once upon a time, people of all ages swarmed to brick and mortar music stores across the country to get their favorite albums in a variety of mediums like vinyl, cassette tape, and CD. In 1995, there was no better setting for an angsty dramedy than the inner workings of what has become a relic of the music industry.
Let me introduce you to our key players:
The entire film is setoff by Lucas getting his first big chance to close the store. After hours, Lucas discovers the attempted buy-out of Empire Records by evil chain monstrosity Music Town. In an effort to save the jobs of his co-workers and friends, Lucas takes $9,000 from the store safe and heads off to a craps table in Atlantic City.
You can image, movie plots needing to advance and what not, Lucas didn’t fair so well. However, his misfortunes don’t stop him from his witty Mr. Miyagi-esque one-liners. Yes, you do know Lucas, played by Rory Cochrane, from his famous role as Slaterson in the Linklater classic Dazed and Confused.
Joe Reaves is the manager boss man at Empire Records and he’s looking to buy into the store in hopes of saving everyone from facing the music of a corporate makeover. He’s a bit rough around the edges, but Joe cares about everyone in the store, proof by his inability to actually fire anyone after the day’s antics.
Johnny Whitworth is kind of the guy who pops up in some strange places. He was phenomenal as the evil Cage Wallace in the sensational second season of The 100, and he’s a pivotal stepping stone character in Limitless, but here, near the start of his career, he plays A.J., the art school hopeful who is desperately seeking a way to tell fellow employee Corey that he loves her madly.
Corey Mason is the perfect girl next door. She’s beautiful, she’s smart, and she’s medicated. Liv Tyler takes a break from starring in Aerosmith videos to set her sights on Rex Manning, her childhood pop star crush that happens to be doing an autograph signing at Empire Records.
Long before Bridget Jones was married to Kenny Chesney or winning an Oscar, she was slutting around a record store in short skirts and exploring the deep corners of the copy room. Gina is kind of Corey’s best friend, but she doesn’t necessarily let that stand in the way of her free spirit.
Debra seems to have had a rough childhood. Our first impression of Debra takes her from Betty Page to G.I. Jane. Teetering on suicidal, we see the tattooed gum chewing freaks of Empire Records band together to give Debra a faux funeral, and potentially a new perspective on life.
Mark is a bit of a young protégé of sorts. He’s learning about life and music through his experiences at Empire Records. That being said, he’s also a child at heart and is largely high on fun factor. Spoiler alert, he doesn’t end up with Jennifer Love Hewitt in this one.
There is a tornado of misadventure that circulates around the store. Between Rex Manning Day, a shoplifter not named Warren, and a party that breaks out in order to cover the missing nine grand, the oddball gang finds a way to grow closer to each other through some self exploration as well as the bond of taking down the man.
What can we take away from this cult classic film? Well, for starters, movies in the 90’s were loaded with awesome music. The Cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Better than Ezra, the art of the soundtrack is starting to become a lost art, outside of Guardians of the Galaxy of course, but nothing is lost with the masterfully pieced together soundtrack of Empire Records. The film even manages to work in Coyote Shivers performing his own live rendition of Sugarhigh.
The soul of this film is the music. In the closing moments of the film, literally as the credits are rolling across the screen, you hear Mark and Eddie debating the influence of bands like the Misfits and the Pixies. This is a moment that really reiterates how music touches our lives in a unique way. The movie is able to tell a story through song on more than one occasion and that shouldn’t be lost on the viewer.
If the music is the soul, the interpersonal relationships between the record store employees are the heart of the film. Pressure to go to college, pressure to be perfect, or skinny, or happy, or in love. These are real life themes that used to be heavily presented in movies. Director Allan Moyle demonstrated similar themes in his other cult hit Pump Up the Volume. These are characters I could relate to on an emotional level because they felt real.
Empire Records is the kind of film that lingers around and never goes away. The culture of the film might be alien to a new viewer, but thematically people are still people. Friends, lovers, art, we all have those influences in our lives. In a world full of outcasts and fitting round pegs into square holes, there is a message of unity buried in the depths of this film.
For veteran viewers, the real question I want to know is did you get through the entire article without singing Say No More Mon Amour? You’re welcome. Have fun for the next two weeks. On a scale ranging between Nirvana’s Nevermind and Bill & Ted cereal, this film ranks as a 24 pack of DunkAroos right after school. Certified glorious.
Is Empire Records your favorite movie or a long forgotten memory of a grunge culture long passed? Leave a comment below and tell us your thoughts on the film. Never seen it? Head over to Amazon and pick up your copy today!Tags: 1995, Allan Moyle, Anthony LaPaglia, Better than Ezra, Carol Heikkinen, Cassette Tape, CD, Coyote Shivers, Cranberries, Debi Mazar, Empire Records, Ethan Embry, Johnny Whitworth, Liv Tyler, Maxwell Caulfield, Music Town, Pump Up the Volume, Renee Zellweger, Rex Manning, Robin Tunney, Rory Cochrane, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Vinyl