Published on August 24th, 2015 | by Craig Silliphant2
Going back for a rewatch of Cameron Crowe’s Singles was a bad idea that reminded us why grunge imploded in the first place. Also, Poochie.
Cameron Crowe’s Singles rode in on the plaid shirt-tails of the grunge music boom. Though, with tracks from bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains, it was really the soundtrack that moved the needle of public consciousness. The movie was far overshadowed by the soundtrack. In fact, the film had actually been produced before the short-lived, far-reaching pop culture explosion that was grunge, but had gone unreleased until grunge became so big that the dummies at Warner finally just shoved it into the marketplace.
I hadn’t seen the movie since ’92 when it came out and I remembered not being particularly wowed by it. But I’d been hearing a bit about it lately in film podcasts, because of Cameron Crowe’s recent release Aloha, so I thought I’d give it a revisit. Turns out, this was a pretty bad idea. This movie was way worse than I even remembered.
The plot revolves around a group of people in Seattle in the early 90s, many of them living in the same apartment complex. Matt Dillon plays a grunge rocker (the members of Pearl Jam cameo as his band; apparently his wardrobe was Jeff Amendt’s actual clothing). Bridget Fonda is a dippy neighbor that is infatuated with Dillon. Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick play another fledgling couple.
Singles is lazy and contrived, with quite a few unlikeable and unsympathetic characters. Bridget Fonda is so cartoonishly insane that she crosses a line into being offensive to women. There’s a whole bit where she merrily pursues the idea of getting a boob job to impress Dillon, who she’s pretty much stalking. (How’s a coffee shop waitress going to afford a boob job out of the blue, anyway?) She definitely fails the Bechdel Test. That said, she’s the least of our worries. At least she’s still Bridget Fonda, a bit of a bright light on screen.
The real offenders are Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick. Don’t get me wrong, I like them both just fine, but you have to admit that charisma-wise, they are both stale, dry toast monuments to mediocrity, Scott especially. He’s soooo boring. I want to curl up and go to sleep when he speaks. And here is a movie where the steamy, sexy moments are love scenes with Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick. I don’t know who thought this was a good idea. It’s about as sexy as rubbing two dirty old pieces of cardboard together. Perhaps those dummies at Warner weren’t dummies after all?
One of the worst mistakes though, is Sheila Kelley’s character. Her plotline really doesn’t start until almost an hour in. She appears on screen and you’re thinking, ‘wait. Who the hell is that? Did I miss something?’ She has a few scenes where she is trying to find love through a video dating service (look for a Tim Burton cameo, playing the director of her dating video, which is idiotic, by the way).
She doesn’t even end her own fucking story. Matt Dillon just pops on screen and says something to the effect of, “Anyway, she got on a plane and met some guy on the other side. End of story.” She feels like she was tacked on as an afterthought because they had a short running time. It’s symptomatic of this lazy movie. It’s choppy, and it feels like the script controls the characters based on what it needs them to do, versus them being alive with motivations and their own decisions. In the end, characters break up or get together based on almost nothing other than what the script knows the audience is expecting (I’d say ‘rooting for,’ but it’s hard to root for anyone here).
I remember what turned me off about this movie when it came out. It’s Poochie. While it was about the cynical Gen X generation to which I sadly belong, it plays more like an exercise in marketing designed to bring out certain demographics. It’s a romcom for the ladies disguised as a happening grunge music movie for the dudes (I felt similar about sticking LeBron James in the recent Amy Schumer film Trainwreck).
These clashing demographic elements don’t balance well. The movie ends up feeling like it has very little to do with being about the music scene in Seattle and feels more like a relationship yakfest. Sure, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains are both in the movie, and Dillon plays in a band who have a song that is a riff on a Mudhoney track, but there’s so much groan-worthy blah blah blah, I love you, I don’t love you, blah blah blah.
Now, perhaps that’s not the movie’s fault. I thought it was supposed to be about the music, man. But perhaps I only took what I wanted out of the marketing with the selective hearing that women accuse men of. If the movie wasn’t so damn bad, I could forgive the fact that it’s a Trojan Horse romcom. At least Reality Bites, which could probably be considered an imitator, was more subversive and funny.
Whether it’s inappropriate demographic fondling or just shitty writing, Singles’ legacy is that it’s a metaphor for what happened to the co-opted and imploded grunge scene en masse. I’d like to think that Crowe had better intentions than we can see up on the screen, as he did with Almost Famous, but I just can’t see the evidence. It’s the slickest kind of Hollywood shit that doesn’t dare to be inspiring in any way.
Note: Sheila Kelley died on the way back to her home planet.