In Seattle during the era of grunge music, the lives and relationships of a group of young people, all living in the same apartment building, go through a period of flux. Among them are waitress and aspiring architect Janet (Bridget Fonda), who finds herself obsessed with bad boy musician Cliff (Matt Dillon) ; Linda (Kyra Sedgwick), an emotionally fragile environmentalist on the look-out for love; and Steve (Campbell Scott), a quintessential nice guy who studies traffic patterns.
There are plenty of "Gen X" movies that have become nostalgic pieces of popular culture. Those that come to mind with a sort of cult-ish fondness and following are 'Reality Bites' and 'Empire Records.' They portray the attitudes and cultural likings of the youth and young adults very well, but out of all the movies that attempted to do so, none wholly contain the pure essence of the '90s like 'Singles.' I place the credit on its filmmaker. Cameron Crowe was not only at ground zero (Seattle, WA) when it happened, but he was smack-dab in the middle of the scene. Being a California teen who immediately took to the music of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and many other grunge bands (except Nirvana), with the inability to ever get to Seattle to experience the scene for myself (due to being so young), 'Singles' became a portal into the world that I wished I could have lived in. Had I been a few years older, I'm certain I'd have made the move – but through CDs and 'Singles' I was able to get a taste of the world that was outside of my reach.
If Crowe goes down in history for one thing, I hope it's for his perfect ability to spin a tale of romance (or, in the case of 'Singles,' many romances) with such natural and unforced charm and charisma that it doesn't feel like a standard-definition "romantic comedy." It's hard to make "chick flicks" that males can openly admit to enjoying and loving, yet Crowe's have the ability to do it every time.
'Singles' features an ensemble of characters living in the Seattle. Most of our central characters live in a singles-only apartment complex not far from the downtown area. We first meet the character who doesn't live within the complex, Linda (Kyra Sedgwick). Having just had her heart crushed, she's not about to get back into the ring – but if Steve has his way, that will change. Steve (Campbell Scott) is a romantic, the perfect definition of a "good guy" (you know, the type that always proverbially "finishes last"). When he meets Linda, he has nothing but the best intentions in mind. His approach is to not have an approach and just be himself, which Linda immediately sees as being a schtick and writes him off; however, Steve isn't a quitter. He's just as ambitious in his personal life as he is in his career, so he applies a carefree persistence that finally gets Linda to at least go out with him. Once she learns that he's the gentleman he appears to be, she lets her guard down.
While Steve and Linda's relationship goes through its awkward beginnings, our time is split more often with another pair of characters who each live in the same apartment building as Steve. Janet (Bridget Fonda) is a young and love-hungry barista who's absolutely obsessed with Cliff (Matt Dillon), the long-haired frontman for grunge band Citizen Dick (a fictional group comprised of Pearl Jam members Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard). Cliff, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be too crazy about her. In fact, it seems like he's completely unaware that they're actually in a relationship. He's distant. While she abundantly sheds physical affection upon him, he acts 95 percent oblivious to the fact that she even exists. It's difficult watching her put herself out there so much, only to be constantly shot down. Janet wears a happy face, but when she looks into altering her appearance just to appeal to him more, it's obvious that she's aware of their barely existent relationship. The sad part is watching her single-handedly put everything into keeping the sinking ship afloat.
Another resident that we follow on a much less frequent basis is Debbie (Sheila Kelley). Debbie is the stereotypical assertive '90s woman, only with an unbreakable spirit. She puts herself out there with every man that she meets. Her actions would come across as needy if it wasn't for her ability to handle rejection so exceptionally well on a daily basis. Just as Janet is willing to do anything to please and appeal to Cliff, Debbie is open to trying any and every mean possible for finding Mr. Right.
While there's plenty of pop culture found in 'Say Anything,' 'Singles' is the first film that shows the extent of Crowe's knowledge in the subject. Like watching a high-speed car chase unfold on live television, Crowe infused the pop culture of Seattle into 'Singles' as it was happening – meaning, before anyone knew that it was even going to land in the history books. It not only features the members of Pearl Jam before anyone knew who Pearl Jam was, but contains performances from Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. The topics of conversation that would become so prevalent in '90s movies happened here much ahead of the curve.
Having been following Crowe's career for years and revisiting 'Singles' now, I recognize that this is in no way his strongest work; however, it's still very good and much better than almost everything else out there. Some scenes within 'Singles' seem like the precursor and/or inspiration for the much more congealed and iconic moments found within his films that followed. For example, a "falling-in-love" sequence in 'Singles' is very similar to the much tighter version with characters Drew and Claire in 'Elizabethtown.' Another moment in 'Singles' feels like it could have been the "You Complete Me" scene in 'Jerry Maguire,' as if the words "you complete me" were on the tip of his tongue and didn't come out until he wrote 'Jerry Maguire' a few years later.
For the Cameron Crowe fans, having 'Singles' on Blu-ray brings us one step closer to having his entire canon of feature films on Blu-ray. Now, we're only lacking 'Vanilla Sky' and 'Elizabethtown.' For those who loved or want to get a taste for the '90s, 'Singles' is the perfect piece of nostalgia to take you back there. As I'm told that 'Almost Famous' accurately nailed the time in which it was set (the early '70s), so does 'Singles' with the '90s.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Bros. has given 23-year-old 'Singles' a nice high-def transfer and slapped it onto a BD-25 disc. The black & white artwork found outside the Elite keepcase is that of the original theatrical poster, not the old DVD version. It's worth noting that the back of the artwork mentions a special feature titled "Two Complete Take Extras with Bill Pullman and Tad," yet that feature is nowhere to be found on this disc. The second-to-last video in the deleted scene section is an uncut take with Bill Pullman, so I'm assuming the missing features are actually a pair of the videos in the Deleted Scene sub-folder. Upon inserting the disc, the only thing to play before the static main menu is a Warner Bros. vanity reel.
'Singles' arrives on Blu-ray with a much-better-than-expected 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Being a 23-year-old picture, I had assumed that scratches, dirt and debris would pop up throughout, but that's absolutely not the case. With an exceptionally clear look, the entire film is void of age-revealing flaws.
Colors carry an extra bright vibrancy about them throughout the film. They always pop. During the various club/concert sequences, they drift into the glowing oversaturated area, but it's safe to assume that it's intentional. During those instances, as the moving bright lighting passes over people and objects, it scrubs out all details; however, once past, the details return. Black levels are deep, but occasionally result in mild crushing.
There are lots of fine details to be seen within 'Singles,' but the sporadic use of DNR tends to erase those features. Fortunately, the artificial tool isn't applied for the duration of the film, but it's present enough to be noticeable. No edge enhancing tools were used. The level of sharpness is entirely there on its own. Bands and aliasing never arise, which is surprising given the 25-gig size disc.
Instead of upgrading to a 5.1 mix, 'Singles' features a lossless version of the original 2.0 audio in the form of a DTS-HD Master Audio track. While many may complain about the audio not being upgraded, the preserved 2.0 track works out well.
Just as the picture quality is void of aging characteristics, so is the audio. Aside from it being a two-channel mix, there's no other tell that gives away the age of the sound. It rings out clear and free of hiss, thumps or warbling.
My only complaint comes from the feeling of the vocal track when the music and effects are busier than normal. For example, during the loud concert scenes, as the characters speak to one another over loud grunge performances and crowd noise, as the actors literally yell to one another in order to be heard, the vocal track comes across as very flat. Any dynamics that were previously found in the vocals are gone – but it's only during the concert scenes that this comes across. Aside from that, the music, vocals and effects function harmoniously.
All of the special features are exclusive to the new Blu-ray transfer. While some can be found on Cameron Crowe's website, they have not been available on disc until now. The only feature found both here and on the old DVD edition is a theatrical trailer.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 1:59)
'Singles' isn't Cameron Crowe's best film, but it's still an excellent picture that has held up well over time. Now 23 years old, it's a solid piece of pop culture that took a perfect snapshot of the pop culture surrounding it when it was made. Following an ensemble of 20-somethings in Seattle during the early '90s, it honestly portrays the highs and lows of single life. Prepare yourself for a wave of nostalgia for the music, culture and attitude that existed at the time. Warner Bros. has put more effort into the Blu-ray release that you might expect. The video and audio aren't perfect, but they're cleaned up and strong. Over an hour of brand news special features are included, the bulk being 51 minutes of deleted/extended/alternate scenes. With a new Crowe Blu-ray ('Vanilla Sky') and film ('Aloha') on the horizon, now is the perfect time to revisit 'Singles' in HD.