Mar 31 2010

Singles

Whatever happened to the children of John Hughes, with their angst, their questions and their seemingly never-ending youth?  They grew up to find their answers only lead to more infuriating question, and growing up is never easy, no matter how old you are.

Cameron Crowe’s Singles is one of the first films to chronicle the burgeoning “Generation X”, a culture of grunge music, environmentalism, flannel, tattered jeans and relationship woes.  Singles focuses on two couples as they experience the trials and tribulations of being in relationships.  Neither relationship is what one would call typical, which provides a considerable (and sometimes unnecessary) amount of drama.  Steve and Linda (Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick) are both instantly drawn towards one another, but their relationship is shaky at best, mostly due to Linda’s experience with dishonest men.  Janet and Cliff (Bridget Fonda and Matt Dillon) are the more entertaining, albeit lopsided couple, with Janet madly in love with Cliff, who’d prefer to keep it casual.

Singles acts as a kind of time capsule for those of us too young to aptly remember the Nineties, and Crowe is at his best when it comes to portraying Seattle at its height of grungedom, though he is at his less-than-best when it comes to telling the story.  Even as the main characters directly address the camera with timeless questions about love, the answers to those questions are all too brief and convenient.  One would think that characters impassioned enough to ask the film itself for answers would be unimpressed with such rushed feedback.

The characters in the film suffer a similar fate; they have a lot of potential, but they never really make it.  Which isn’t to say the characters are flat or dumb.  Far from it.  Rather than rely on stereotypical grunge types, all four character are unique, with elements of their surroundings ingrained in them, but not defining them.  Scott in particular stands out as a fairly down-to-earth, sensible guy, yet has enough of a personality to keep him from being a total square.  Fonda shines as a doe-eyed, happy-go-lucky twentysomething who approaches every situation with charming optimism, and Matt Dillon steals his fair share of scenes as the stereotypical grunge bonehead that was fashionable to be at that time, and an embarrassment to have been thereafter.

Sedgwick, however, isn’t so lucky.  She does the job with a considerable amount of grace, but the character doesn’t do much, other than provide an element angst that seems all too forced and conveniently inconvenient.  Although she doesn’t have the template the other characters have to fall back on, Sedgwick embodies the flaw suffered by all the characters: they lack the depth to stay interesting for the whole film.  There are several one-off characters (Eric Stoltz and Tim Burton play the best ones) that are just as clever and entertaining as the leads, but Crowe has them leave the film before they can overstay their welcome.

It’s a shame really, because you can tell that Crowe had a well-rounded grasp on the scene, maybe too good of one.  It seems Crowe took too much time capturing the atmosphere and sensibilities of the era, and forgot to give it any substance.  Entire conflicts are quickly addressed, then brushed off to the side before anything can sink in.  The plots within the film aren’t   trite either; unplanned pregnancy, body image issues, the double-edged sword of independence and the need for simplicity in courtship are issues anyone could relate to.  If anything, Crowe wants to encapsulate the plight of the Gen Xers just getting their start in the world.  Unfortunately, this means that, while we see a broad collage of young adulthood, no topic is explored, thus the film looks more like a listing of why life is hard, and less like a film trying to say something that makes an impact.

Singles gives us a pretty accurate look at Generation X during its peak years, but in the end, it just doesn’t say too much about it.

2.5/4

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