So this is the Seattle everyone likes to talk about.
I had that reaction about 15 minutes into Singles, Cameron Crowe’s 1992 homage to Seattle grunge. I’m a 31-year-old transplant who’s heard more than a few longings for that era since moving here. Even locals who weren’t alive back then are liable to pine for the nights when our streets were more awash in neon reflection than midrise sheen, when Seattle was more grit than gloss. When, basically, transplants like me hadn’t yet descended upon the Pacific Northwest en masse.
From the jump, through sweaty concert interludes and fogged-up, flanneled-out coffee shop sessions, Crowe captures this period in all its shabbiness. But even a newcomer can recognize much of what Singles celebrates about Seattle. While watching with my parents on the East Coast over Thanksgiving break, I pointed at the TV an obnoxious amount as various Seattle locales, famous and not, flashed on the screen.
And that’s just the beginning of what makes this movie feel familiar to anyone who calls this city home.
It’s a Cameron Crowe movie, so you know the score: a great soundtrack, a gaggle of earnest strivers, and some questionable male-gaze stuff (an industry-wide problem, mind you). In this early Crowe feature, which was released after Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Say Anything but pre-Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, the former Rolling Stone journalist trains his lens on the orb surrounding the alternative “Seattle sound” eventually known as grunge. Members of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden all famously appear at various points in the film; Nirvana, on the cusp of its Nevermind breakout during the film’s production, declined.
Plot-wise, this rom-com’s title is actually pretty instructive. Singles riffs on its dual meaning, following a handful of twentysomethings searching for love while living in a Capitol Hill apartment complex that advertises 18 one-bedroom units as “Singles” on a sign out front. One of the building’s occupants is Cliff, a doofus who fronts a struggling band, Citizen Dick (really), and is played by a young Matt Dillon with ridiculous rocker hair. His love interest is fellow tenant Janet (Bridget Fonda), who’s saving up for architecture school by working at a coffee shop where Cliff also side-hustles.
But a romance between a transit wonk named Steve (Campbell Scott) and environmentalist named Linda (who does not reside at said apartment building but is played by, my mom wants you to know, an “adorable” version of The Closer's Kyra Sedgwick) receives the most screen time and does the most work to highlight the fragility of these young lovers’ passions.
Watching nearly 30 years later, you’ll think of Friends when this group gathers and dishes about their love lives at a cafe. The font of the opening credits even resembles the one accompanying the TV sitcom. Maybe this movie propelled more than just our grunge scene.
What Singles Gets Right about Seattle
A lot. An early flex comes when Linda corrects someone who says “UW” instead of “U-Dub.” A medley of local bands and settings, from Occidental Park to Green Lake to the aforementioned U-shaped apartment building that still stands at the corner of East Thomas and 19th Avenue, covers a ton of the city’s sonic and physical terrain. And when Steve and Linda kiss in the rain sans umbrella, it feels less like a gross film cliche and more like a nod to Seattle’s peculiar resistance to bumbershoots.
But the most impressively Seattle thing of all? I’ll go with Steve and Linda’s jobs. The latter works at the “Seattle Environmental Council,” an eco-conscious forerunner to today’s bevy of local climate nonprofits. Steve, meanwhile, toils at the “Department of Transportation,” promoting a “Super Train” that promises to solve the city’s car-centric gridlock problem. He will sound familiar to anyone who’s spent time around Seattle’s many ornery urbanists (“Let me ask you a question, do you think about traffic? Because I do, constantly,” he says to Linda on a date).
Car ownership is central to the plot in multiple ways; a garage door opener functions as a sort of stand-in for a ring. That’s romance, Capitol Hill-style, if I’ve ever heard of it.
What Singles Gets Wrong about Seattle
The prospect of breast augmentation figures prominently in Janet’s story, which doesn’t feel very Seattle at all and arises for very uncomfortable reasons. (Particularly when you’re watching with parents. There’s also a plainspoken sex education scene that will make you want to crawl under the couch if you’re watching with family during the holidays. You’ve been warned.)
Also, picking nits here, but a novice cyclist probably wouldn’t circumnavigate the city, culminating in a climb up Capitol Hill, to meet someone on a date. (Incidentally, she meets him via a video dating service, a cringey and heretofore, for your writer, unknown form of courtship that will instantly make millennials feel better about their Bumble and Hinge profiles.) Finally, “Pioneer Square Newsstand” never existed, but it did make me miss its Pike Place Market inspiration.
Seattle Style Files
A reminder: I wasn’t around back then. Still, the timeless elements of Seattle style—dark boots, flannel, and layers, so many layers—are all there. A difference: Everyone looks like they have quarantine quantities of hair, but made much cooler with curls and waves. Also, even with looser fits back in, the bagginess of, say, Steve’s suit jacket is absurd by contemporary standards. Tailors, avert your eyes.
Is Singles a Seattle Movie?
Absolutely. To me a movie known for its setting shouldn’t be too good; otherwise its content overshadows its location. This is a mediocre rom-com that Crowe elevates, at least in our minds, with a slew of authentic Seattle references.
For Seattleness, Singles deserves four flannels out of five. Overall, though, I’d give it two-and-a-half. Mom gave it three exclamation points (“Love!!!”) out of, well, what’s the maximum number of exclamation points in a text from a boomer mother? Dad gave it a grumble.