A film very much of its time, Empire Records is a moment in the life of a music store. This is back when record stores were a thing rather than an enthusiast’s anomaly.
It’s very 90s looking – All 4:3 televisions and CDs – which is a good thing as it was a much better time for music stores
It’s a the-store-faces-franchisement plot on the surface, but it’s really about the people who work there and their relationships with each other. There’s a string of damaged characters here – a very Gen X thing to do and a habit that is continuing today. Someone is described as someone with all the tattoos. That wouldn’t be a helpful description today
It does feel like a stage play – it is very dialogue. There’s a heavy reliance on what would now be meme-able interlude moments. Music moments and head shaving moments mainly. There’s not enough music arguing going on in the film, but I guess that’s what High Fidelity is for. It’s definitely for the Gen Xers and anyone who may be nostalgic for the delightfully social-media-free era.
Despite his undeniable talent, Anthony La Paglia seems like a strange choice. He’s just doesn’t seem quite the right fit. For the rest of the cast, these characters aren’t quite as cool as they think they are – or as written as they are. Renee Zellweger’s acting stands out and she will age much better than this movie does.
There’s nothing more important in a music store movie than the music. There are a few too many songs outside of the era. Music stores always like their classics, but something contemporary was needed. There’s an old adage that movies contain the music that the director grew up with and this seems to be the case here. The film looks all a little 90210-esque with its too pretty and too fashionable choices.
Empire Records is really about relationships and people finding themselves – as is usually the case in films like this. It captures a moment of a time that is long gone. Perhaps it would have been better to lean in a bit more on the musical angle.