“Gonna tell her this morning, no I’ll tell her by noon, by noon or one – by 1:37 exactly.” – A.J., a hopeless teenage artist in love.
This wonderful line from one of the film’s many heartthrobs probably describes Empire Records best. While the film wants to be something strong and life-altering, it keeps changing its mind as it goes on, deciding on something prematurely.
The film’s soundtrack is still famous to cult-classic fans, being re-released on vinyl almost two decades later, and having created chart-topping success for Edywn Collins and the Gin Blossoms with their first hit – ‘Till I Hear It From You’. The story behind this film and its long-lasting impact may seem like a mystery to some, but when the soundtrack album producer Jonathan McHugh has his name attached to the music of Boogie Nights (1997), Don Juan DeMarco (1994), The Wedding Singer (1998), Austin Powers (1997), Rush Hour (1998) and Step Up (2006) just to name a few, I can’t say that I’m surprised.
From the second we hear the classic strums of ‘I Don’t Want to Live Today’ by the Ape Hangers over a lovely crane shot of the fictional record store, you feel like you’re visiting that cool kid’s house after school, the one with the latest video games and raddest music. There are great little touches throughout Empire Records that permeate this feeling, like the music store’s staff picking songs for the speakers through an M&M lottery (or exercise their one VETO in case of emergency), and the stoner-rocker employee making out with street-art by the dumpster when he takes out the trash.
Empire Records has the potential to capture the hearts (and ears) of its audience, so it seems astounding that this was one of the lowest performing releases of 1995 – perhaps at the fault of Warner Bros. Studios. Originally planning to launch this film in a massive 1,250 theatres America-wide, McHugh claims that he just kept getting told a lower and lower number until the movie eventually only released in 87 theatres, with no big marketing campaign or red carpet premiere. Maybe there was something to this big executive decision though, since its aggregate critic-review score on Rotten Tomatoes is still a measly 23% – a definitive flop.
Perhaps it’s the expository introductions to this eclectic collection of characters; Corey (Liv Tyler) bringing in freshly baked cupcakes for Rex Manning Day; Gina (Renée Zellweger) sloppily making out with his record; their ‘fun’ boss Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) being angry basically during every interaction he has; and Deb (Robin Tunny), cutting off all her hair before uttering a single word to anyone (or the audience), that carry no weight to their big cinematic moments and apparently, Lucas (Rory Cochrane), who is meant to guide the audience through this strange tale was never “all bizarre and fortune cookie” as stated by A.J. (Johnny Whitworth) shortly after opening the store, despite the character himself claiming that this is his persona, 40-odd minutes later, contradicting the script later in the movie. Lucas is certainly not the easiest character to like despite his presence on camera, especially since we’re introduced to him shanking his responsibilities and taking an impromptu trip to Atlantic City at the film’s opening.
The chemistry between the actors is strong, which makes these areas where the story falls short sometimes easier to forgive, but still such a shame since it could’ve reached the heights that the songs can take you to. Though before you get a chance to feel like you’re watching a completely B-grade movie, Mark (Ethan Embry) is head banging with metal heads in a corner of the store and Empire Records tries to pick itself back up off the critically failing floor.
Sadly, the disjointed scenes and sudden outbursts of emotion that are meant to be powerful and heart-wrenching for these characters just come off as sloppy. It’s during the film’s first climax that it really comes apart and the writing seems to be just void of development and originality. It’s no surprise that it was savagely edited in post-production, even completely cutting characters from the final cut, and speeding up the timeline from two days to only a single 24-hour period. Andre (played by Tobey Maguire) was actually cast and intended to be in the film, but was allegedly dealing with personal issues and struggled during filming, being asked to leave the set.
By the time the film is done and everyone is dancing on a rooftop, the audience is given a moment to feel confused at what had just happened, and why that climax went on for so long (and wasn’t that kid in jail?). But they are shunned from these thoughts when ‘The Honeymoon is Over’ by The Cruel Sea blasts over the speakers, kicking off more amazing hit songs that a whole generation can relate to, as the credits begin to roll. I do however recommend this movie to anyone with a love of music – the nineties were an exciting time full of emerging punk, strong and scary rock, teen angst and (now) classic alternative pop – Empire Records, if nothing else, can give you all the feels from its spectacular soundtrack, and educate others that could use a schooling.
Fun Fact – Kurt’s Favourite Picks from the Stellar Soundtrack that went Platinum in the U.S. & Canada:
‘Zombie’ – The Cranberries
‘Circle of Friends’ – Better Than Ezra
‘Romeo and Juliet’ – Dire Straights
‘Ready, Steady, Go’ – The Meices
‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ – The Flying Lizards
To see a list of other recommended movies that feature an amazing soundtrack, hand-selected by the Janks Reviews team, click here.