I was talking to a good friend of mine (and sometimes 1,416 and Counting commenter) about her thoughts on Empire Records. Her answer?
“Where do thoughts come from? They just appear!”
What makes Empire Records so infinitely watchable is the sheer fact that not only is it light-hearted fun, but it’s quotable like very few other movies.
Empire Records isn’t overly complicated. A group of cool misfits work at the hottest independent record store around. They’re the kind of artsy types you envied in high school, and their much put-upon manager Joe is privy to one heck of a secret: The guy that owns Empire Records is planning on selling it to a large corporate chain called Music Town. When one erstwhile employee discovers this, he takes the nightly deposit to Atlantic City and attempts to make more money in the hopes of saving the Empire, only to lose big and come home empty handed. All this craziness leads to a chain of events in one major day for the store that affects everyone involved.
One of the great qualities of Empire Records is that while it’s got an awful lot of characters in it, it does two things remarkably well: it makes you care about every character, and every character’s story ties up nicely at the end of the day. With a bunch of employees, a stuck up, almost totally washed up pop star coming into the store plus his manager, a thick-skulled shoplifter who introduces himself as “Warren Beatty” and a cavalcade of nutty customers, that’s a lot of ends to tie off.
And then there’s all the various drama: Rex Manning Day occuring at the store, where the washed up singer comes to sign autographs and two of the female employees are very excited about Rex appearing there; the deposit getting gambled away by Lucas (Rory Cochrane); the battle to save the Empire from corporate interference; the love triangles; one employee’s suicide attempt, and so on and so forth. You never feel swamped, though – just intrigued and like you’re along for the ride.
Plus, this movie has Renée Zellweger and Liv Tyler before they were all famous and some such. (Although it does beg the question, what the hell ever happened to Rory Cochrane, who played Lucas? I thought his career would have fared better than it has.) Another goofy highlight is Maxwell Caulfield playing Rex Manning, the cheesy, arrogant pop star, which is probably Caulfield’s best known role besides being the straight-laced exchange student in (…gulp) Grease 2.
I really cannot think of one movie that’s quoted more than this one amongst my group of friends.
Seriously, the movie’s like one big cookie jar of one-off jokes and zingers that work well in almost any situation. Nothing inspires a laugh in my circle of friends more than, “But…it’s Rex Manning Day!”
Said friend mentioned at the top of this post? She still has Empire Records on tape where she taped it off TV way back in the day (and I’m talking when we were in junior high school together). Does shrieking at each other, “Shock me, shock me, shock me with that deviant behavior!” ever get old? Not really. Empire‘s one of those movies that’s best shared amongst a group of friends on a night when you really just need some sugary-sweet fun – and over the years it’s never gotten overly cloying or nasty. Every time I watch it, it’s just as good as the first time around when I was probably 13.
There’s been 10 years of sustained viewing of this record and I’m still not sick of it, that’s for sure.