Singles – #3 in the U.S. (Sept. 18-20)
All-Time Domestic & Worldwide: $18,471,850
Singles is much deeper than its grunge surface level, exploring the beauty of relationships with realism.
Seattle, 1992. Home of artisan coffee, grunge, and the now-defunct Seattle Supersonics. It was the precipice of a cultural shift. Fortunately, grunge broke by the time Singles came into the cinema. Cameron Crowe was no stranger to Seattle nor how to write real people doing real people things, having written Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Say Anything, his directorial debut. This time, it was a case of accidentally striking the iron while it was ho. No one would have predicted grunge to have broken out during the film’s filming, already turning a line about “There’s no song of the generation” archaic due to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in 1991. For years, I’ve heard this film talked about in VH1 retrospectives and others as how it is a window into a time when grunge was king. That’s not what the whole movie is about, but it is present. It’s more about the lives of four people in Seattle (well, five) connected by that all-encompassing thing we seem to never escape: love.
Linda Powell (Kyra Sedgwick) has been dumped by a man visiting from Spain but comes into the view of Steve Dunne (Campbell Scott). Yet, Steve himself wasn’t looking; being wrapped in his work had ended a relationship with Janet Livermore (Bridget Fonda). However, he and Janet remain friends as she begins to date Cliff Poncier (Matt Dillon), lead singer of the grunge band Citizen Dick and flower salesman. These four connect via their single-bedroom apartment complex (hence the name). Another friend Deb (Sheila Kelley), is also searching for romance around Seattle, relying on dating video services and other trial-and-error means. What comes of their journeys depends on if they can navigate their own insecurities and unexpected conversations about the future.
Singles works because of the characters and their relationships, with all four main leads stepping up to the plate to bring it. Bridget Fonda (seen in the batshit masterclass last month, Single White Female) is excellent at handling Janet’s insecurities and triumphs. She is sure of her love and what she seeks out of Cliff and her partnership, but Cliff makes her feel insecure about her breasts. This is handled maturely with some comedy in the form of a lovelorn surgeon played by Bill Pullman. She’s a delight and knows what she wants, confident in life, but can feel down on herself. She’s also cute as a button, but that’s me talking. She plays off Dillon beautifully, with Dillon coming into his own as the epitome of a musician. There’s a calm arrogance to himself, but nothing overbearing (much to the chagrin of the reviewer calling him mediocre in the film). Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick are the true rock of this movie.
Their relationship and journey are so impeccable that you want to see both of them make it as a couple. Anytime the film diverted from Steve and Linda, I wanted it to return to them. Scott and Sedgwick have this amazing chemistry together that is magnetic. Anytime they weren’t on screen, I wondered, “What is Linda and Steve up to?” When the couple has a moment where chaos is thrown into the mix, it is so impactful having seen their evolution and growth. With Janet and Cliff, we are thrust into the middle of a relationship in a shortfall that seeing one blossom eases that fall. Cliff and Janet do turn out alright in the end (that famous scene of the kiss is the finale, spoilers for a 30-year-old movie), but their journey though good in itself, does not have the same impact as Linda and Steve. Steve himself, working super hard and down on his luck, makes him feel like a proto-Jerry Maguire before Crowe makes that film. Deb’s journey is akin to a comedic sidequest that, if taken out, the film would still function on its own. We don’t get that fun cameo but Tim Burton as a dating video director, but it isn’t a total loss in the cameos department. I didn’t think much of her journey, but it had funny moments. I also appreciate Cliff cutting it off, saying, “Don’t feel bad for her.”
Crowe inserts us into their world by blowing them to break the fourth wall and talk to us to let us in. It also makes us feel welcomed as friends, and people seem aware, with Steve telling Cliff to shut up at one point since he is speaking to us. It gives the faux-documentary feel in these parts, which was becoming the norm thanks to The Real World beginning the all-important confession cam based on these fourth wall breaks in the film. It’s rare to give a reality show credit, but credit where it is due; I love myself a fourth wall break. Allowing the audience to be in the world adds to the immersion and lets us experience what they feel. Heck yeah, let’s go get some coffee at the Java Spot. Let’s see Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. The feel of the time is one of oneness and of being in. It helps that before this first time viewing, I rewatched SLC Punk! Which also succeeds in the fourth wall immersion department. It also gets us to meet the likes of Eddie Vedder, Jett Arment, and Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam and Chris Cornell in minor cameo roles. The best cameo in the film not related to music is Xavier McDaniel telling Steve not to finish quite yet during love. I was ugly laughing at the part so much.
Let’s get to the music and the cameos because this movie also has an abundance of that. Those familiar with Crowe’s work know that the soundtrack will be loaded with bangers. This one is no different, with a significant number of tunes from known works, original songs, and even demos. An early demo version of “Spoonman” appears here two years before its first album appearance. The classic AiC tune “Would?” and Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust” appears as original songs. There’s even an appearance from “Nearly Lost You” by Screaming Trees and Mudhoney’s “Touch Me, I’m Sick.” It’s loaded with grungy goodness, even with a noticeable absence of Nirvana. Mother Love Bone more than makes up for it.
The music score, mostly acoustic and rock-based, is done by Paul Westerberg of The Replacements. This is his first solo work after the band’s dissolution, and it’s great. Shoutout to the podcast No Dogs in Space for getting me into the music of The Replacements with their marvelous series, which made me appreciate Westerberg’s music in the film more. It is weird hearing an instrumental of “Bastards of Young” during a love scene, but ending the film with that classic song makes up for it. If I was a Gen X kid, I would have totally owned this soundtrack at one point. Soundtracks of the 80s and 90s remain unmatched as they were as important as the films themselves.
Singles is much deeper than its grunge surface level, exploring the beauty of relationships with realism. Cameron Crowe’s run from Fast Time to Almost Famous is one of my favorites by having people be people, imperfections and all. The love journeys of the film, minus a side plot, are worth investing time into, with Steve and Linda being the standouts. It is also worth exploring a time before the internet came into the forefront and amidst grunge-breaking big.
Revue Rating: 4 out of 5
Next time, Michael Mann goes against his known style to direct the great Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans.