Saturday 18 June 2016

Movie Review: Singles (1992)

A romantic comedy set at the peak of Seattle's grunge scene, Singles captures a unique moment in time and music, but is an otherwise unremarkable story of typical relationships among young adults.

The film focuses on the love lives of twentysomething friends living in and around a Seattle apartment rental block. Linda (Kyra Sedgwick) is an environmental activist. After getting burned by an affair with a duplicitous foreign student, she meets Steve (Campbell Scott), an engineer with the department of transportation also smarting from a recent breakup. They start a relationship that will have its fair share of unexpected ups and downs.

Meanwhile Steve's neighbour Janet (Bridget Fonda) is obsessed with musician Cliff (Matt Dillon), a member of the grunge band Citizen Dick. She wants to be dedicated to him, but Cliff is unsure he wants to commit to anyone, as his mediocre band struggles for a breakthrough. Also looking for a mate is Debbie (Sheila Kelley), who is friends with Steve and Janet. She decides to go the video dating route, and creates a video to try and find the perfect match.

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, Singles is more about mood, feel and music and less about plot and characters. The film is a celebration of a Seattle's unexpected moment in the spotlight of the music world, when grunge erupted as the sound of the day and bands went from underground to global stardom within months. The film features the music of Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney among others, and band members, mostly before their fame, appear in supporting roles.

As for the relationship stories, they are simple and routine. Crowe's writing is not sharp enough to highlight any of the personalities, and the characters do not move beyond pleasant, generally inoffensive and only vaguely interesting. There is nothing wrong with the romance, comedy and frequent fourth wall breaks; there just isn't anything too compelling on offer, either. Crowe does earn points for keeping his characters deglamorized and refreshingly real, in keeping with grunge's no-frills blue collar aesthetic.

The ensemble cast does what is required, both Kyra Sedgwick and Bridget Fonda playing up the cutesy angle, while Campbell Scott downs in blandness. Matt Dillon as the generally clueless band leader of a mediocre band could have emerged with most distinction, but is given relatively little to do. His band Citizen Dick is a reminder that even in Seattle of 1992, that there were some grunge bands too crap to break out. Bill Pullman (a plastic surgeon), Tom Skerritt (Seattle's Mayor), Jeremy Piven (a store check-out clerk), Eric Stoltz (a random street mime), Victor Garber and Paul Giamatti all appear in small roles.

In addition to the music, Singles is most famous for possibly being the inspiration for the television series Friends. Regardless, the film is like a familiar friend: fun to hang out with, but not necessarily a sizzling experience.

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