I first heard of Empire Records in 7th grade Spanish class. I have no idea why we were watching it. (In English, no less.) Maybe Señora Clark had a headache. We were good at giving her those.
Anyway, I didn’t pay much attention at that time, because everyone in my class seemed to think it was the greatest movie ever, and I am predisposed to hate things that are hyped up like that. Fast forward a decade or so, and now I finally gave this movie a chance.
Good decision. It was great.
The movie is quirky, rough around the edges, and much deeper than it initially appears. Yes, there are a lot of characters, but they are quickly distinguished from one another through clever dialogue and subtle details. AJ, the sensitive artist. Corey, pure and perfect. Lucas, devious screwup. Gina, free-spirited slut. Mark, puppy-like stoner. Debra, dark and twisty and sad.
These are the core 6, led by their boss / father-figure Joe, and all of them (including Joe) contribute to the movie’s theme of misfits chasing dreams and depending on music for nourishment, connection, and understanding.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Joe reaches the peak of his frustration and has to hammer it all out on his drum set. Lucas and AJ put Joe on the store’s speaker system for everyone to enjoy. Then they rock out, dancing and singing like loons, releasing all their own nervous energies.
Even though the movie sets you up to root for and focus on 2 particular storylines — the salvation of Empire Records, and the AJ/Corey romance — I thought the more powerful subplots were in the female relationships. Corey, Gina, and Deb make an interesting trio, because none of them really fit together, and yet by the end of the film, all of them understand each other and connect. Bonus points for accomplishing that without the story devolving into a major cheese factory. Corey stays frustratingly clueless; Gina keeps her short skirts; and Deb holds on to her tough girl attitude and sassy mouth. They are true to themselves but also learn how to be true to each other.
Perhaps it goes without saying that I was hugely impressed by the performances of all 3 actresses — Renee Zellweger and Robin Tunney in particular.
Also, Johnny Whitworth is hot. Why is he not more famous?
Even Rory Cochrane was attractive, in an unconventional way. What I loved most about his character was the implication that maybe, just maybe, Lucas had planned for things to go this way all along.
AJ: What’s with you? Yesterday you were normal and today you’re like the Chinese guy from the Karate Kid. What’s with you today?
Lucas: What’s with today today?
Corey: Do you have a plan?
Lucas: No. Not a comprehensive plan.
Corey: I think you do.
Joe: You knew, didn’t you?
Lucas: About what?
Joe: Everything. About me, what I wanted to do.
Lucas: I knew you weren’t happy.