Empire Records

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Celebrate Independent Music Stores With the Quirky Empire Records

May 7, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:great cast, endearing characters, zingy dialogue

Cons:plenty of questionable behavior

The Bottom Line: "Where's the money?"
"Joe, the money is gone."
"Yeah, I know it's gone.  But where's it gone to?"
"Atlantic City."
"Atlantic City?  Is it coming back from Atlantic City?"


The independent record store, like the independent bookstore, is an increasingly rare breed nowadays. After watching the 1995 indie comedy Empire Records last week, I am reminded what a great shame that is.

This movie, written by Carol Heikkinen and directed by Allan Moyle, centers around the titular store, where a small, close-knit group of teens and early 20-somethings work together under the easy-going management of the slightly older Joe (Anthony LaPaglia).

Three major events punctuate the movie. The first is laconic philosopher Lucas’s (Rory Cochrane) decision to take all of the store’s cash at closing time and go to Atlantic City. His aim is noble; he has just learned that a big music franchise intends to buy out the store, and he wants to generate enough money to stop that from happening. However, it’s a risky gamble that doesn’t pay off. How is the store going to recover the lost $9000, let alone avoid this hostile takeover?

The second is the arrival of has-been teen idol Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield) for an album signing. This is an especially big deal to Corey (Liv Tyler), a rather na´ve and mostly straight-laced young woman who has just been accepted to Harvard. In fact, she is determined to get her first taste of intimacy with him, little realizing in her teeny bopperish fervor that her coworker A.J. (Johnny Whitworth) is madly in love with her.

The third is a pair of shoplifting attempts by a mouthy teen who identifies himself only as Warren Beatty (Brendan Sexton III). These incidents demonstrate how well the employees work together to solve a crisis and how unique Joe’s management style is. The latter attempt also provides an opportunity for jittery aspiring singer Mark (Ethan Embry) to practice his assertiveness.

Interspersed with these occurrences is plenty of endearingly delinquent behavior such as confrontational clothing and jewelry choices – especially from the worldly Gina (Renee Zellweger) and goth Debra (Robin Tunney) – and music cranked up to ear-splitting volumes, as well as dangerous deeds like drug use and wrist-cutting. The dialogue is zingy, with plenty of memorable lines that elicit a laugh, and while the era of music being represented isn’t really my scene, the soundtrack definitely helps root the movie in a particular time and demonstrates the passion these employees have for the albums they’re selling.

The best way to be introduced to a quirky cult film is by someone who already loves it, and I was fortunate to have that experience. Even if you’re going into the movie cold, though, it shouldn’t take long to warm to the characters, all of whom are flawed but keep their shenanigans to a level appropriate for the PG-13 rating.

I especially enjoyed LaPaglia’s performance as a guy who seems quite deserving of a World’s Best Boss mug, and Cochrane got to utter many of the movie’s most memorable lines, but the ensemble in general is strong, and it’s fun to recognize some of these actors from later roles. It also made me smile that two of the actors – Tyler and Embry – in this film about a Little Record Store That Could co-starred the next year in That Thing You Do!, a thoroughly charming movie about a plucky one-hit wonder band. This movie isn’t as family-friendly as that one, but for older teens and young adults – and those who remember what it was like to be both – it is equally engaging.


Recommend this product? Yes


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