My Criticism of Critics: 90’s Cult Classics

A lesser known fact about me is that I love to watch movies, anything from absolute classics to things people have never heard about. A well known fact about me is that I procrastinate. By combining these two qualities, I choose to watch movies that are a bit trashy and use half my brain while watching. I start to watch a movie that I feel like doesn’t require effort then get massively involved. In the past few days I have seen my fair share of early 2000 bad bad teen movies. However, sprinkled in these I saw two cult classics which stood out.

The first being Empire records, which got called the Breakfast Club of the 90’s therefore after hearing that I couldn’t not watch it. The reviews of it were not as encouraging, it bombed in its initial release in 95 and had accumulated negative reviews. The one thing I learnt and will emphasise is to never trust critic reviews (after watching the disaster which is the Heathers and not being able to get past the first half of La La Land). Despite these flaws I sat ready to watch a mind numbing cheap knockoff of one of my favourite movies. The movie revolves around a bunch of teens working for minimum wage in a record store, they are wide range of different personalities colliding in this one spot. This job and the store is essentially a haven for them. The cast are very interesting, and you may notice a few familiar faces, the most recognisable being Renee Zellweger.

The first character we see is someone who clearly loves the store, this is Lucas who finds out that the store is being sold to a huge chain and tries to gain money to ensure this doesn’t happen. However, the way he attempts to save the store is by taking the stores earnings of $9000 that he was meant to the bank, instead he goes to Atlantic City and doubles his earnings (yay!) but then bets all of the $18000 and obviously loses it.

Suffice to say Joe, the store manager is pissed as he was going to use this money to be a partner in the new chain when it gets brought. Joe takes the news surprisingly well, and simply grounds Lucas to sit on the couch and think of a plan to get this money back. We meet more of the staff of empire records, one being AJ, a super cute aspiring artist who is infatuated with another store employee Corey (played by Steven Tyler’s daughter). Another employee and Corey’s best friend is Gina, her opposite being a loose girl with no aspirations. Another more minor but fun character is Mark, who we see occasionally rocking out.

One of my favourite character introductions was Deb, she comes in through the door and gives her two other female employees the finger as they greet her. I found her hostility unexpected considering how the rest of the group acts like family and it did make me chuckle. She walks into the bathroom and begins to cut her hair and while watching just thought after the first few cuts, “she can salvage this” or “her hair could look cute”. Then out comes the razor and her hair was completely shaved off. The other employees express concern in her state of mind.

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The film spans in the course of a day and on this particular day they are preparing for the arrival of a washed up singer to attend the store who the teenagers are less than excited to see. Prior to Rex Manning’s entrance the store encounters and detains a shoplifter in a hilarious and ridiculous way.

Image result for empire records rex manning day

I will not go on to sum up the whole plot as I encourage you to watch it (or if it doesn’t seem like your cup of tea then elsewhere will summarise the film better than me). I went into the movie with neither sky high or low expectations, I simply wanted something reminiscent of Breakfast Club and wanted to be entertained. It definitely fulfilled Breakfast Club feels as there were some parallels in the certain characters, Deb being Allison. Corey being Molly Ringwald-ish and Lucas being vaguely like Bender. It was very funny and it could easily relate to your high school job, the time just before university. Some scenarios were out there and exaggerated but it adds to the quirkiness of Empire Records. I just want to reiterate that this is no Shawshank Redemption or Forrest Gump, with it’s random dance scenes and moments when you just say “oh come on” to the characters however I could easily re-watch it and it is an extremely fun movie. It may not be entirely realistic but some parts were unexpected and it certainly was enjoyable.

In it’s time it never did well, never found the audience or the footing much like underappreciated works such as Freaks and Geeks, My So-Called Life and Pushing Daisies. However decades later I am glad to say that it has finally found it’s fan base and developed a cult following. I feel like it was before it’s time, and teens throughout the years can watch it feeling an affinity toward the characters and the store, making it easy to relate to the range of characters. An added bonus to empire records is obviously the soundtrack, the songs are banging, except well the Rex Manning songs which are, of course, laughable.

The comparative movie, Dazed and Confused, also taking place in the space of a day and featuring an ensemble cast, most notable being Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey. Also the guy who plays Lucas in Empire Records plays some stoner guy and also in it is Renee Zellweger. I don’t know the names of any character because of how bland they were which made them all seem like minor characters. I will try to talk about the plot but can honestly say that there wasn’t a plot. A bunch of high school guys which includes Ben Affleck and Football Dude who are enjoying their last day of school, these events include getting high in the halls, parking lot and class, which apparently the teachers just allow. They leave their busy class schedules to go to a middle school and threaten the students there, as a part of “hazing”. One student is singled out as his sister asked them to take it easy on him which obviously means they will hurt him even more. They go back to school, smoke more weed and then are asked to sign a pledge to not take drugs while they’re on the football team. The rest of the team do it knowing it’s an empty promise, however Football Dude decides not to sign it because it means giving away his individuality(?) and beliefs because clearly his morals are so strong (drugs, cheating and beating kids shows very strong morals) that he can’t lie. Then they paddle the middle school boys and the girls are berated, by being called sluts and bitches, getting food thrown at them and then cleaned in a car wash. The biggest question mark is that it seems voluntary for the girls, as one girl is asked if she wants to join which she agrees to. While the boys are hazed for proximity. The boy they threaten earlier escapes from Ben Affleck’s sociopathic character however they later spank him after tracking down his baseball game.

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(Me watching this movie)

The middle schooler is then invited by Football Dude to come to another character’s party. The parents decide to stay home after they see kegs being delivered so party cancelled. They loiter around, buy beer, knock peoples mail boxes down and then get high and drink. This includes the middle schooler, getting high and drinking for the first time. What is even more baffling is that the parents do not care that their kids drink or smoke marijuana in the house or come back at sunrise, not even if he is fifteen.

Dazed and Confused got positive reviews from critics in 1993 during it’s release and still to this day. I have no idea why, the plot is non existent, the characters bland and forgettable, despite the fact I watched it a few hours ago I can barely remember them. Empire records was panned by critics for its silliness and supposed “predictability” which are the traits that Dazed and Confused is loved for. They are making jerky characters with no inhibitions for the sake of them being like high schoolers who are more like burnouts, every character is pretty much the same and there is no character development, it is very see is what you get. None of the characters seem particularly familiar or likeable to me. There was no change from the start of the film to the end. it seemed very typical like every american sitcom ever but crammed into a space of an hour and a half. it even seemed like a bunch of dissaciated scenes on end. Everything spanning in a day seems too forced and the humour falls flat. I didn’t laugh once in this movie. However there must be a disclaimer, Dazed and Confused is said to reflect the American culture which I know from other movies but I am not american so maybe I can not relate to it as I never attended an American high school. However I have watched plenty of American movies and never found the culture an obstacle for me to relate or like a movie. Maybe if you are American you are the inclusive group who understand the charm but if not automatically you will not be able to understand it. Or perhaps it is even more niche and you have to have attended an American school in the 70’s to get it?

While Dazed and Confused was very lacklustre with zero charm and memorability (the songs were good, I guess), it met nothing but positive reviews. Everything that Dazed and Confused is praised for is what Empire Records is scrutinised for, where Empire Records was a fun watch. Both spanned a day but with more developed characters and day which marked some kind of importance in Empire Records whereas Dazed is much like it’s title with no redeemable traits.

 

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