I was thirty when this movie debuted, which put me smack-dab in the middle of its target audience, as well as the exact age, give or take a year, of the majority of the cast. Always a bit of a closet romantic, especially then, it had an immediate impact on me. Today, nearly thirty years later, I find myself suppressing the desire to chuckle at what seemed at the time to be all-important: finding and hooking up with "that special someone." As the introductory song sings: "All my life / Waiting for somebody / Ah ha ha -- come and take my hand ..."
Songs. This film is loaded with them, and they are all good. Cameron Crowe, the director, is known for doing that--making sure his soundtracks really hit the bull's-eye. Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and the Smashing Pumpkins, among many others, are featured, and help drive the narrative in many ways, background reminders of what the characters are doing, how they're relating, what's coming.
The film is, like Love Actually, actually several stories or vignettes of various individuals seeking "that special someone," and the trials and tribulations they go through, all fairly patterned off a late-60s, early-70s TV series I remember well: Love, American Style. (It's incredible to me that fifty years later I can still remember that series' title song.) The starring cast includes Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Sheila Kelley, and Kyra Sedgwick, with cameos by Bill Pullman, Jeremy Piven, Eric Stoltz, Tim Burton, Chris Cornell, and Eddie Vedder.
Dillon plays a rocker in a group named Citizen Dick. He's working hard to get himself and the boys noticed, so much so that he ignores his girlfriend, played by Bridget Fonda, who eventually dumps him after going so far as scheduling plastic surgery to have her breasts enhanced for him--an appointment she decides at the very last moment to cancel. Campbell Scott plays an engineer laboring to get a "supertrain" built (in Seattle, where the vignettes take place), and--to me, at least--seems more desperate than the others to get hooked up. He clubs a lot; at one outing he spies Linda Powell (Sedgwick), who spies him back. He attempts to talk to her, but she initially blows him off. She has recently gone through the romantic ringer, and isn't interested in putting her heart on the line again. They later run into each other that same night at a magazine stand, and talk. From there they begin the age-old orbiting crotches dance.
Kelley plays Debbie Hunt, an ad executive who uses video dating in an attempt to "find a guy." She's the quintessential yuppie, Ms. Hunt, and to me easily the most annoying character of them all. She's got three inches of surface plastic where her skin ought to be, but I suppose her heart is in the right place. The video ad attracts all sorts, one of whom is a bicycling enthusiast who is already making a play for her roommate when she rushes inside after missing him at an agreed-upon restaurant.
It isn't a film with much to say politically or socially, though Powell works at an environmental agency. The underpinning of this film is pure culture--as in grunge culture, especially in Seattle, where it got its start just a year or so earlier. And so it isn't the deepest film out there, though there is powerful drama in some scenes, which again makes me cringe that Hollywood insists on labeling it a "romantic comedy."
I get it: the masses are too stupid, too unsophisticated, to enjoy a film that bridges more than one genre, or one that rebels against having a genre at all. It's a personally depressing consideration. Much of my work crosses genres quite freely, and I take great pride that it does. Melody and the Pier to Forever, for example, includes young adult fantasy, epic fantasy, contemporary fantasy, apocalyptic fantasy, even urban fantasy, horror, and romance in the seven novels in the series. I'm not interested in slotting my work into neat suburban categories just so folks don't get upset. Screw that. And screw them if they don't like it!
Nearly thirty years later, I'm left thinking other thoughts when it comes to Singles, like: How privileged must these people be that the single most important consideration they have is I want a girlfriend! I want a boyfriend!
Steven Dunne (Scott) works as an engineer, back in the day when engineering used to be a fairly lucrative field to work in. Debbie Hunt is an ad exec. Cliff Poncier (Matt Dillon) works four jobs, but still somehow finds the time to practice and tour with his band. Janet Livermore (Fonda) works at the local coffee shop, somehow making enough to pay off her student loans (yeah, right!) and get into architecture school. And Powell, as I stated earlier, works at an environmental agency.
Life is pretty damn smooth for these folks, even when it appears to them that it isn't. They are all very white, very attractive, very well connected socially, with ample cash and time to party and follow their crotches' desires. Directors and writers like Crowe, and producers as well, have done a tremendous disservice in these films and their characters by portraying such privilege when the fact of the matter is that most Americans can't afford a $400 life-or-death emergency. In the early 90s, the economics of the day weren't as stark, but they certainly weren't Easy Street as portrayed here, or in films like Love Actually, which actually focuses, with just an exception or two, on the top 1% of British society, or Serendipity (likewise, the top 1%), or Bridget Jones' Diary, which also outlines the romantic challenges of extremely privileged characters living the high life. There are dozens more films just like these. All these mentioned make my list of best movies, by the way. We own them. But that doesn't mean they aren't flawed, sometimes deeply. The older I get, the deeper those cracks seem to be.
With that in mind, I'd like to offer a fifteen minutes later for our Singles characters. Here we go.
Steve Dunne, engineer, who wanted to get a supertrain built in Seattle, eventually runs for mayor. He is defeated his first and second attempts, but his campaign is successful on its third go. He runs on living wage increases and on revitalizing Seattle's sagging infrastructure, with an emphasis on the Supertrain. Ground-breaking for it took place his second year in office. He has won in landslides each subsequent election; and the Supertrain is now the most popular mass-transit system in America, serving well over a million Seattle residents daily.
Debbie Hunt was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years after we saw her last, but she survived. She quit advertising, and now spends her days working with and advising other survivors. Her non-profit was instrumental in getting various carcinogens banned in the state of Washington, as well as around the country.
As for Cliff Poncier, Citizen Dick disbanded in 1994. They never broke through to the big time. As a solo artist, he eventually recorded several hit albums that put him in the upper echelon with bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains. He has since scaled down his singing, songwriting, and touring, having started a non-profit program called Making A Living, which was titled from one of his hit songs. With a small staff, he seeks out obscure talent and gives them a chance to thrive by means of grants, education from recognized masters, and scholarships. His reality-TV series of the same name, featuring the trials and victories of those found artists, has become a huge hit.
Janet Livermore ended up quitting architecture school in her second year when her parents died in a car crash outside of Tucson, Arizona, in 1995. Heartbroken and adrift, she spies Dr. Jamison, the plastic surgeon she almost employed to have her breasts en-boobled for Cliff, at a park as she took a walk in the rain. They married in 1998. Dr. Jamison, disgusted with the medical industry, quits his career in 2001. With Janet, they buy a 54-foot sailboat and begin sailing around the world to various ports, where they highlight for Ecosia.org efforts in many countries to fight global climate change, planting trees and also providing information about the ocean and its dire state. Their YouTube channel gets tens of millions of views each year.
Linda Powell eventually becomes head of the environmental agency she works at. She and Mayor Dunne had many contentious arguments over the Supertrain's environmental impact; she pushed him to "do the project right," and eventually, grudgingly, he complied. They remain close friends to this day. She and her husband Andy, whom she dumped twice in the name of "passion," or the supposed and misunderstood lack thereof, have recently celebrated their twenty-seventh anniversary. Linda reports that she "has never been happier."
Finally, the mime, in 2003, buys the apartment house they all once lived in. A fair and generous landlord, his apartment house has been inhabited by the same eighteen couples or individuals the last fifteen years, all of whom consider each other family. His book, Communal Living for the 21st Century: An Answer to the Housing Crisis Threatening Us All, recently became a national bestseller.