A cheesy teen comedy, the launch pad for Liv Tyler & Renée Zellweger and of course THAT soundtrack, Empire Records may not have been a particularly great film but it still managed to hold some thrall during the teenage years of many Gen X-ers, kinda like Singles dumber, prettier, uncomplicated cousin. Set over the course of a day in an independent record store in an undisclosed American location and concerning the up’s & downs of it’s misfit staff, coping with the perils of being a mid-90’s teenager whilst also fighting to keep their jobs as the store is faced with closure from an unscrupulous property developer. It was dumb, it was embarrassingly right-on and trite but despite all those things, I still kinda dig this film.
Facing a series of truncating cuts in post-production that omitted large amounts of footage for certain characters and the same cuts rendering portions of the story incomplete and non-sensical until some of the footage was reinstated in the release of the directors cut in the early 00’s, Empire Records had its work cut out for it from day one, suffering from the studio interference which translates to a muddled and inconsistently messy teen flick that bombed in the box office and received scorn from the critics. It has in subsequent years developed something of a cult following due to its young, likeable cast and exceptionally good soundtrack.
This film marked early notable appearances from many actors that would go on to carve careers of note in the years to come, most notably Liv Tyler & Renée Zellweger but also the likes of Robin Tunney, Rory Cochrane, Ethan Embry all made early career appearances in Empire Records, each making an impression on even the most cynical of critic, many of which agreeing that great things awaited a good portion of the cast.
Any written piece on this film couldn’t pass without mentioning its soundtrack, no doubt a CD that was owned by a great many teens of the mid-nineties, a remarkably well assembled collection of songs from the likes of The Gin Blossoms, The Cranberries, Pixies side project The Martinis, Better Than Ezra, Toad The Wet Spocket, Evan Dando and more. There were some notable omissions from the likes of Daniel Johnston, The Buggles, Dire Straits, GWAR and Bodycount that were featured in the film but did not make it to the soundtrack album. It was a collection so well assembled despite the reviews the film received that it was dubbed ‘a soundtrack in search of a movie’ by Variety magazine.
Despite the degree of naysay and derision levelled at it upon release, Empire Records found its audience eventually, it found its cult following, it even spawned it own meme on April 8th each year to mark ‘Rex Manning Day’, a sure fire sign in the 21st century of finding a cultural status befitting of it.