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‘Singles’ (PG-13)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 18, 1992

"Singles" has a lot less to do with the Seattle music scene than its opportunistic advertising and MTV videos suggest, and a lot more to do with a spirit that critics have already dubbed "twentysomething." More than a "Saturday Night Fever West," Cameron Crowe's new film is an ensemble romantic comedy set in a small singles apartment building that's home to most of its major characters. In fact, the horseshoe-shaped building's courtyard is more crucial to the film than the Seattle clubs; if this were television, the movie's title would undoubtedly be these singles' address.

"Singles" is a familiar boys-meet-girls, boys-lose-girls story, focusing on two couples and several unattended pals whose lives are interwoven in ever-evolving ways. Each person is at a point in his life where new careers and old aspirations are struggling for dominance. But although these singles are looking for a doubles match, they seem to be fighting the mating game every step of the way. All they need is love.

Crowe, who explored high school romance in the exquisite "Say Anything," could have called this film "True Love," although that's something most of these folks have sworn off or remain oblivious to.

One coupling involves Campbell Scott as Steve, a radical workaholic transportation engineer who can't get a fix on the two-lane road to happiness, and Kyra Sedgwick as Linda, a driven environmental activist who has been heart-burned too often. Seemingly the most computer-compatible couple, they have the hardest time connecting after meeting in a nightclub listening to hard rockers Alice in Chains; their tortured, soapish relationship is more on-again off-again than the presidential debates. Steve and Linda are the less interesting couple, but take up much screen time.

The more intriguing pairing, and one that's equally tenuous, involves Bridget Fonda as the waitress Janet, a starry-eyed Midwestern naif who has steadily downsized her romantic expectations (though she's considering breast enlargement), and Matt Dillon as the self-absorbed but lovable Cliff, a wannabe rocker oblivious to his lack of talent. The dim Cliff doesn't quite know what to make of next-door neighbor Janet's devotion, particularly since she wears her emotions on her sleeves and wipes her nose with them. What's surprising is how levelheaded they both prove to be in the long run.

Fonda is absolutely charming and sweetly resilient as her new and old relationships overlap. Dillon, allegedly fronting a terrible grunge band called Citizen Dick (with members of Pearl Jam), looks to the rock manner born: with his long Viking locks, dull communicative skills and passively engaging personality, he steals what film Fonda leaves behind.

Among those making cameos are Tim Burton as a crazed director of dating videos and Peter Horton of "thirtysomething" as a video date. Crowe also appears briefly in front of the camera in a club scene where he plays a rock reporter questioning Cliff on the meaning of the song "Touch Me I'm Dick."

Crowe was a writer for Rolling Stone and other publications from his teen years on, and there are lots of small touches in "Singles" that bespeak his appreciation for rock culture. What's surprising, then, is how flat the performance scenes are, though the tangential moments -- band members talking in a restaurant, Cliff's obsessions -- ring true. And while Cliff and Janet do as well, the yuppieish Steve and Linda seem particularly unlikely grunge or hard rock scene-sters.

Crowe, who first showed his empathy for teens with "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," does the same for characters who are a bit older and more civilized, but not necessarily wiser. They share a common address and a common unrest, which may be why Crowe builds the film on an unconventional, episodic structure that appropriates everything from flashbacks to camera-confessionals. Crowe has said he envisioned "Singles" as a celluloid album, and like an album, one comes away remembering some parts more fondly than others.

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