Movie #45 2021: Empire Records (1995)

You know when a movie’s been on your watchlist for years and you finally get round to it and it’s a major disappointment? Sigh. That was this movie for me.

Empire Records is a nineties classic coming of age drama about a bunch of teenage record store employees. With an all-star cast, the film centres on the battle the group have with capitalism, in a way. In short, their beloved Empire Records (their place of work) is at threat of being absorbed into a large parent company. The ensemble band together to come up with a plan in order to keep their employer independent, learning more about each other on the way.

…and that’s it. The entire movie is pretty much the kids sat in the record store talking. Damn it.

No slander will be given to the cast, however. This is completely the fault of scriptwriter Carol Heikkinen, which is a shame because one of the very few dance movies that I actually like (Center Stage) was also penned by her. Alas, it’s a shame. But back to the cast. Let it be known that Renée Zellweger was out there in 1995 proving she had more star quality than the rest of these actors. And yes, I’m including Liv Tyler in that observation. That’s not to say that the rest of them are bad, but Zellweger stands out above the rest for all the right reasons, showing the world what she was made of way back when.

Since basically the entire movie is set in a record store, you’d expect the soundtrack to be the best thing about it. And you’d be right. Exceptional choices include The Cranberries and Gin Blossoms, and will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time.

Whilst we’re on the topic of time travel, I’ll admit that I loved the super nineties vibe of it all (the clothes, the hair, the language), but I just didn’t really get the point. I suppose as it’s a mid-90s coming-of-age tale, it’s to be expected that there would be an air of nihilism about it, but the script itself is remarkably average unfortunately. It is, after all, just a bunch of kids hanging out. Thankfully, there’s a blow out party at the end of it all, so at least the story has one redeeming quality.

I’m sure there are some relatable characters here for teens, but the lack of storyline just didn’t lend itself to them. On more than one occasion, I was kind of bored, but at least it’s a pretty good time capsule on the whole. Perhaps Empire Records is remembered so fondly due to sheer nostalgia?

It’s all perfectly well made, the sets are decent, the music and costuming are (again) stand out factors, and Zellweger flashes her future star power to us here too. However, it didn’t grab my attention enough for me to remember it by next week.

If you were a teen in 1995, check it out. If not… don’t bother.

Empire Records is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

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