Blog Directory CineVerse: A grungy kind of love

A grungy kind of love

Thursday, August 2, 2018

By the time "Singles" was released in 1992, writer/director Cameron Crowe was riding a hot streak of critical acclaim and public adoration that arguably began with "Say Anything" (1989) and lasted through "Almost Famous" (2000). While "Singles" isn't the best of that lot, it serves as an effective time capsule for the early 1990s and an early example of popular entertainment featuring and targeted toward Generation X. That doesn't mean that older or younger generations won't appreciate or enjoy this movie, however. Below are the reasons why "Singles" still matters, as discussed last night at CineVerse:


  • It’s definitely of a very particular place, time and culture: Generation X in Seattle, 1991. 
    • The Gen X part is important because this was a kind of coming-of-age movie for twentysomethings. 
    • The Seattle part was important because it captures the musical and cultural scene of the Seattle grunge movement right before it became big thanks to breakout bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam—the latter two of which has songs on the film’s soundtrack and musicians starring in this movie. Thus, the film benefited from good timing—it was released after grunge music became mainstream; yet, it was criticized by some for trying to exploit that timing in its marketing and publicity. 
    • It’s also significant that this was the first safe-sex generation; casual sex and free love was definitely out of fashion by this time, and we even see our characters attend a safe-sex party wearing contraceptive-influenced costumes. 
    • Director Cameron Crowe said in an interview: “I liked the idea of working with actors I loved and having it be an ensemble, and just paying tribute to a city and a feeling. I’d seen Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing; I liked the size of his movies and how they were rooted in his experience, his community … how he wanted Brooklyn to be showcased. And I’d always loved [Woody Allen’s] Manhattan so much. So that was the beginning of Singles. It was a chance to show what it’s like when you have a city that you love, and a group of friends who have become your family. There’s a sense of family that disparate single people bring to each other, being in a city that they didn’t want to leave.” 
  • It plays as more of a kind of episodic, sketch comedy/romance film; instead of a straightforward story with clear conflicts and resolutions, we get vignettes primarily involving two main couples. 
    • Roger Ebert wrote: “(Crowe) has adopted a casual sketch style, where scenes are separated by blackouts and the point of each episode is to show some facet of human nature, usually one that makes us squirm. The movie will challenge some audiences simply because it is not a 1-2-3 progression of character and plot. There is no problem at the beginning and no solution at the end; the film is about a life process that is, by its very nature, inconclusive—the search for happiness.” 
    • Keep in mind that this film influenced the creation of the hit TV show “Friends,” which Crowe was asked to help develop but which he declined; 1992 was also the year “Melrose Place,” also featuring young Gen Xers, kicked off. So this film was riding a building wave of movies and TV shows geared to this demographic. 
  • The two main couples we follow represent similars and opposites: Steve and Linda appear to be well-matched young professionals who are right for each other; and Janet and Cliff seem to be less compatible and capable of a less-certain, more tenuous future together. 
  • The film handles serious subject matter—like pregnancy, infidelity, vocational catastrophes—yet maintains a light, casual mood and witty, slice-of-life vibe. The film never gets melodramatic or solemn. 
  • The movie also seems to predict the rise of the reality TV style of filmmaking, in which characters address the camera and provide insights and confessionals; consider that MTV’s “The Real World,” which employs this technique, debuted this same year. 
    • In some ways, the film tries to look like a documentary; ponder the opening credits scene showcasing everyday Seattle couples. 
  • Fear of commitment and settling down. 
  • Coming of age, living on your own for the first time, and finding a partner. 
  • The pros and cons of relationships. 
  • The challenges of romance and intimacy in the new era of safe sex. 
  • Staying true to your roots and avoiding “selling out.” 
  • Manhattan 
  • Clerks 
  • Reality Bites 
  • Empire Records 
  • Airheads 
  • Slacker 
  • Say Anything 
  • Jerry Maguire 
  • Almost Famous 
  • Vanilla Sky

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