December 29th, 2011
02:03 PM ET
Writer/director Cameron Crowe's latest effort, "We Bought A Zoo," is in theaters now, but my favorite film of his has always been one of his earliest: the seminal Gen X comedy “Singles."
Crowe’s films are distinct not because of a unique visual style, but because they’re all journeys of human emotion. (That, and his movies always have the best soundtracks.)
When "Singles," the second film he directed, was released in September of 1992, it made a huge impact on me. Although I was a kid at the time, even now I can see how well it's held up over the years.
Crowe made “Singles” after the teen classic “Say Anything” and before Academy Award nominee “Jerry Maguire.” It may have been overshadowed by those achievements, but “Singles” is the kind of grounded romantic comedy that almost never gets made anymore.
It's mercifully devoid of an uptight, desperate female protagonist who must choose between love and career. The plot follows the residents of one apartment building as they navigate life and love in the Seattle grunge scene. The cast boasted some of the hottest young stars of the moment, including Bridget Fonda as Janet and Matt Dillon as Cliff.
Janet has always been my favorite character, and her story of self-actualization feels honest. Only 23 and madly in love with Cliff, her naive devotion to a guy who openly admits he’s seeing other girls is embarrassingly realistic. She even considers getting breast implants because she thinks he’ll like her more if she looks like the girls pinned up on his wall.
When it finally dawns on her that she “could just break up with him,” she not only moves on, but realizes her dream of going to school for architecture. By the time Cliff declares, “Janet, you rock my world,” we understand why.
In the final scene, we hear Cliff ask Janet, “Does everybody go through this?” She responds, “No, I think just us.” It's a perspective the audience can relate to, as we all go through the same process of growing up, each feeling as though we’re the first person to stumble through life, learning from our mistakes and slowly evolving into who we want to be. Now that I’m the same age as the characters, their stories resonate in ways I couldn’t have fathomed while watching as a kid.
And if “Almost Famous” is Crowe’s love letter to rock and roll, “Singles” is the origami fortune teller he passed to the genre in grammar school. Alt-rock hero Paul Westerberg compiled the soundtrack, and Cliff dreams of making it big with his band Citizen Dick, which is comprised of three members of Pearl Jam - including Eddie Vedder as the drummer.
(“Singles” was also Crowe’s first collaboration with Pearl Jam; his documentary “Pearl Jam Twenty” aired on PBS earlier this year.)
If you pick it up for a repeat (or initial) viewing, you'll notice that the most dated thing about “Singles” isn’t the fashion (combat boots and flannel shirts? Totally en vogue), but the technology. For example, when wacky neighbor Debbie joins a video dating service, she crafts a VHS tape that's hilariously cheesy. Funnily enough, it also foreshadows the no-less-absurd meticulous profile cultivation of Internet dating sites.
Do you have any memories of “Singles”? And what’s your favorite Cameron Crowe film?
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