The following is a strange beast. It started as a regular review, written in the late ‘90s by my former teenage self. That review was preserved as is in the italics parts. You’ll notice that the film left me lukewarm back then, which doesn’t square with the 4 stars rating, right? Well, that grade reflects my current appreciation of “Singles”, having just watched it again on a cold January 2005 night. I’m now in my mid-20s and the movie suddenly makes perfect sense. Take Bridget Fonda’s opening monologue:
“I’m 23. Remember how old 23 seemed when you were little? I mean, I thought people would be traveling in air locks and I would have five kids. (…) I think time’s running out to do something bizarre. Somewhere around 25, bizarre becomes immature.”
Aaarghh! I’ll be 25 in a month! I feel bizarre and/or immature, and I couldn’t. be. more. single. I watch the flick and I’m relating to it as much as I did (still do) with Say Anything, which mirrored so well my right-out-of-high-school state of mind. The funny bits make me cry, the touching ones make me smile… Tonight, Cameron Crowe is definitely my favorite filmmaker.
Ok, so back to my original review from 6 years ago:
The film’s about the plague of the end of this century: dating! Most of the action is set around a small apartment building where a bunch of twentysomething people live. For a while, it’s like this is a more or less groundbreaking romantic comedy. Crowe goes from one of these singles to the other, so there doesn’t seem to be any conventional plot. There’s Matt Dillon as a flower deliveryman who plays music at night with his grunge band Citizen Dick. Bridget Fonda is his semi-girlfriend; she loves him, but he doesn’t really appreciate her. Their neighbor Steve (the film’s most interesting character, played by Campbell Scott) is one of these nice guys who believes in true love and has trouble playing games. Like, he meets a wonderful girl (Kyra Sedgwick) but like always, it soon gets complicated. Debbie (Sheila Kelley)’s also single, but she’s more desperate about it and joins a dating service. Big mistake.
That’s actually a pretty fine summary. Nothing to add, carry on.
Dating sucks, right? But the film’s take on the subject is more complex and interesting than that. Through a series of episodes divided with witty title cards, it plays with possibilities. Mostly, it’s about figuring out if love’s worth all the hassle or if we’d all be better by ourselves. I like how the characters comment the events directly to the camera. The cast is great, especially Dillon, real cool as a long-haired slacker. I also dig the early 90s Seattle scene in which the film is set. We can see Soundgarden and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Veder, and the soundtrack is filled with grunge, the most depressing music there is. And what about the cameos, like Bill Pullman as a breast surgeon, Jeremy Piven as a clerk, Paul Giamatti as a master French kisser (!), Eric Stoltz as a mime (!!!) and even filmmaker Tim Burton as a wannabe director. As for the direction, it’s as dynamic as the writing is sharp.
Well, so far there doesn’t seem to be a need for me to rework this review at all. Here’s where I got it wrong:
But then… I don’t know man, I don’t know. There’s a lot of good stuff in this film, but for some reason, there’s still something missing. Or maybe it’s something that’s wrong. The film was written and directed by Cameron Crowe, one of the most gifted people working in Hollywood nowadays. You probably know him for the highly entertaining and surprisingly clever Tom Cruise vehicle Jerry Maguire or for Fast Times at Ridgemont High (directed by Amy Heckerling but written by Crowe), but Crowe is also the guy behind one of my very favorite films, Say Anything. All three of these films share qualities: they bring up interesting thoughts about love and relationships, they’re very well written and originally directed and they’re packed with good actors and cool music.
Right, right, and right – except, what’s that nonsense about “something missing”?
In fact, the problem with “Singles” is paradoxical. It’s too bleak and disconnected to really succeed as a romantic comedy but at the same time, some of the gears are annoyingly visible. After a while, you realize that because there’s a bunch of characters and stories it does not mean that no patterns are followed. It’s worse: instead of one predictable romance, you get two! Like, here’s one thing I found particularly phoney and that happens, like, 3 or 4 times in the film: a couple splits up because they misread each other, they get back together, they part again, they reunite… Maybe that’s just Crowe’s point: dating follows the most illogical of patterns. I don’t know. This is not a bad film, but I think it would be more involving if it focused on a single love story.
I don’t disagree all that much with my teenage review, but the “problems” I saw back then just reflect the reality I’ve now experienced and, whereas I evaluated the dating patterns only as plot elements then, I’ve come to learn that relationships are indeed that predictable/illogical. “Singles” still isn’t as great as Say Anything and Campbell Scott can’t top John Cusack as Lloyd Dobbler, but we’re still in that ballpark of brilliant dialogue, killer musical cues and hilarious comic beats. It made me happy, it made me cry… Right movie, right time.
Worth buying. Worth cherishing