In the back of my mind, I’d always thought of Empire Records as a poor man’s Mallrats, but it wasn’t until I watched it again last night that I realised how many similarities there actually were between the two. They’re both teen-oriented comedies, ostensibly set in New Jersey, and released in 1995… both stories take place around retail establishments playing host to a celebrity autograph-signer… and both finales feature a chaotic televised event, during which the “bad guys” get their comeuppance, and the “good guys” get news jobs and snogs. If that weren’t enough, they both feature a pouty, preppy brunette with a controlling father, a feisty blonde gal-pal, and a besotted love interest with initials instead of a first name (A.J. vs. T.J.). I could also point out that both brunettes first appear on screen wearing cute midriff-bearing tops, but I think that might be getting too obsessive.
Besides box-office takings, the major difference is that Mallrats is a breezy, raunchy rom-com, where the shaggy-dog story takes a backseat to Kevin Smith’s savvy, smutty dialogue… while Empire tries to cram a full season’s worth of clunky teen-melodrama clichés into the space of a single 90 minute movie, regardless of how painfully they clash with the “wacky” stoner “humour” and fourth-wall breaking musical numbers. Self-mutilation! Drug-abuse! Musical aspirations! Artistic aspirations! More musical aspirations! First love! Heartbreak! Thwarted virginity loss! Clay-footed idols! Shoplifting! Guns! Badge-making! College applications! Uncertain futures! Job threats! Uptight Suits! Blah, blah, blah! Meh…
Still, I think it’s fair to say that Renée Zellweger has had a much more successful career than her View-Askewniverse doppelganger, Joey Lauren Adams… who I think would actually have been a better choice for the role of the rebellious, promiscuous ‘Gina’ here… though I may just have been conditioned to think of JLA as cooler than RZ because of their subsequent roles? You have to admit, Alyssa Jones is waaay more bad-ass than her British cousin Bridget! That said, Zellweger totally nails her character’s more tearful moments, and looks great rocking nothing but a clingy orange apron and underwear… it’s just a shame the two actresses can’t co-exist somehow, without idiots like me comparing them, and other idiots confusing them. Meanwhile, I’d take Claire Forlani over Liv Tyler any day of the week… though Tyler’s obviously the cooler of the two, with her rock-star lineage.
Fun facts: Robin Tunney had to wear a wig in The Craft, because she’d shaven her head for her role as a punky bad-girl in this rot. In both cases, her character has scars on her wrist, from a failed suicide-attempt… though here she went with horizontal cuts, rather than the vertical ones she has in the later movie. What was it about her that made casting directors think “unstable self-harmer”?