‘Singles’ and the Appeal of 90s Nostalgia
We are rapidly approaching peak 90s nostalgia. 80s nostalgia had its heyday, but tidbits of the 90s have been creeping in for some time now. Earlier this year we got a Power Rangers movie, X-Files and Twin Peaks are back on our TVs and Netflix rebooted Full House. Really, we just need another Spice Girls reunion and we’d be set.
I’m not immune to 90s nostalgia. I was born in the 80s but really grew up in the 90s. And if I was going to be honest, it’s because of this nostalgia that I consider Cameron Crowe's 1992 film Singles to be my all-time favorite movie. It’s not a perfect movie or even Cameron Crowe’s best, but it is the one that I've watched the most times, could quote the most lines from, and even after multiple re-watches, never feels old. It always puts me in a good mood.
When I first visited Seattle, I made a point to visit the building that was used as the apartment complex where the main characters all lived - I took a selfie in front of it, of course. On Record Store Day a few years back, they released a single of the song “Touch Me I’m Dick” from Citizen Dick, the fake band from this movie - Yup, I bought it.
So why am I so fond of this movie?
Singles is a perfect time capsule movie. A breezy romantic comedy that uses the early 90s Seattle grunge scene as its backdrop. I initially watched it because, in the late 90s, I was in middle school and just started getting into music. I loved Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden - it was the music my dad and brother had around and I took my initial music cues from them - and the latter two bands had cameos in this movie. It was around 1998-1999 and I was at least 5 years too late for the relevance of grunge music, but whatever. I rented this movie from the local Blockbuster because I heard Eddie Vedder was in it, I had a huge crush on Eddie Vedder and therefore proceeded to rent it a bunch more times.
To give a brief run-down of the plot, Singles is about a group of twenty-something “singles”, navigating love and relationships in Seattle. Most of them live in the aforementioned same apartment complex, which I find adorable. I don't think most adults make friends this way but it works great in movies and TV. There's Steve (Campbell Scott), who acts as our main character and gateway into this group of friends. He’s a Nice Guy. He works in the city's department of transportation and is trying fix Seattle's traffic. The main plot of the movie involves him trying to date Linda Powell (Kyra Sedgwick), an environmentalist hesitant to commit. There's his friend Bailey (Jim True-Frost), who is a Maître-d, wears an obnoxious hat and aims to "live his life like a French movie". He reminds me too much of Chandler from Friends for my comfort. There is also Janet (Bridget Fonda), a barista saving up for architecture school. She's dating Cliff Poncier (Matt Dillon), the lead singer of the local band Citizen Dick (the rest of the band are played by members of Pearl Jam). Rounding out this group of characters is Debbie Hunt (Sheila Kelly). Her character is appropriately named because she is always on the prowl for a man. As Steve puts it, "she consumes men instead of food". Her aesthetic is very much that of a late 1980s business woman. This group of characters is the pre-‘Friends’ friends.
Characters fall in and out of love, as well as in and out of lust. Characters meet cute at things like Alice In Chains shows and have their hearts broken at dance clubs playing Pearl Jam songs - did people actually dance to Pearl Jam in clubs in the early 90s? I must know!
Debbie joins a video dating service. Her profile video is directed by Tim Burton! It’s a very general romantic comedy but with a very specific backdrop, a very specific time and place. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love it so much. I didn’t grow up in Seattle in 1992 but I did grow up with this music and a certain set of cultural references. I love that the members of Pearl Jam play Matt Dillon’s backup band and that Eddie Vedder plays the drummer, that Chris Cornell (RIP) pops up in the background of scenes for no reason at all and that the lead singer of the band Tad has a random cameo as a creepy guy on the phone with Bridget Fonda.
I read that Cameron Crowe felt he didn’t get the cast for this movie right but I don’t agree. The main players all have a natural, well-worn chemistry together. They’re all charming, likable people and you want good things for them. This film has such a good heart. It’s warm and funny and Crowe’s dialogue is sharp and quotable without calling too much attention to itself - I love, in particular, Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick’s exchange during their first meeting at an Alice In Chains show in particular and later on, Scott’s throwaway line “I’m probably sterile. It runs in my family”.
There’s something about this movie that feels so refreshingly effortless. I came to Singles for the kickin’ soundtrack and the Pearl Jam cameos, but stayed, years later, because I still really enjoy watching this group of characters. It may not have the acclaim of some other Cameron Crowe’s films like Say Anything or Almost Famous but it’s miles above other Cameron Crowe films like Aloha or We Bought A Zoo. It’s sad it gets lost in the shuffle because it’s really good and sweet. So put on your nicest flannel and pair of Doc Martens, brew a cup of coffee, and give it a try.