Entire family: No
1995, 90 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for sexual situations, language and drug use
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features: D
Sometimes you’d swear that critics and audiences seem to be watching two different movies. Empire Records was liked by only 24 percent of the Rotten Tomatoes critics, whereas 84 percent of the audience liked it. But I can see where a person’s reaction could go either way.
Empire Records (1995) is deliberately quirky, with a cast of teens whose quirkiness and iCarly-style random dancing will make you either smile . . . or roll your eyes. It’s the kind of movie you’d get if you crossed a mainstream teen dramedy like The Breakfast Club with an indie film that, like so many indie flicks, seems to operate by the philosophy that the weirder the better. And if you’re familiar with the classic chick-flick Mystic Pizza (1988), which featured Conchata Ferrell as the lone adult presiding over a small business overrun by teens and their problems, you’ll see plenty of similarities, starting with the basic premise and structure.
Mystic Pizza featured a young Julia Roberts, and the attraction here is a young Liv Tyler and Renée Zellweger.
Like Mystic Pizza, Empire Records is a coming-of-age story in which a wholesome character (Tyler) is looking to lose her virginity, a young man (Johnny Whitworth) wants to overcome his shyness and tell a girl he loves her, one girl wrestles with the “promiscuous” label (Zellweger), and another (Robin Tunney) is feeling so down on herself and life that she’s tried to cut herself as a cry for help. And a running contrast between promiscuity and wholesome behavior blurs at some point.
The business itself is facing a make-or-break moment, though it almost seems incidental compared to the personal problems of the employees that take center stage—or rather, center aisle. Empire Records is an independent store that feeds off the energy of its young and crazy employees, who like to play loud music and rock out in the store with customers of all ages. At times, you’d think you were in an Elvis movie, the whole place is so up and random dancing. Even the benevolent boss, Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) gets into the act by locking himself in his office and playing a drum set he keeps there for stress relief. He’s a father-figure to this group, the “cool dad” before cool dads became a thing. He doesn’t even get overly mad when a young employee (Rory Cochrane) entrusted to close and deposit the day’s receipts has an Uncle Billy moment, and he’s just as tolerant with a space cadet employee who wants to be in a band (Ethan Embry), a young shoplifter (Brendan Sexton III) whose attitude is 50 shades of obnoxious, or a boyfriend (Coyote Shivers) that hangs around too much. More