By: Kathy Iandoli
It was a great time to be alive in the ‘90s. Bill Clinton was President, Rock music was taking on a whole new dimension called “Alternative,” and women were learning the ropes of their rights thanks to a little movement called Riot Grrrl. The center of the universe was neither New York City nor Los Angeles, but Seattle. A prehistoric Portlandia-meets-Williamsburg of sorts, Seattle was the safe haven for 20-somethings to bask in confusion while holding odd-yet-awesome jobs like coffee shop workers and record store clerks. To the outside world, it felt like the whole city wore a blanket of flannel to protect it from the rain, and everything was on the frontline of awesome.
If you didn’t live in Seattle, then you damn sure acted like you did. The films of that era represented the lifestyle Seattle portrayed through its music and its obsession with coffee and cigarettes. Films like Reality Bites may have taken place in other states (like Texas), but still epitomized that same archetypal lifestyle of “Hey, we’ll figure it out eventually, right?”
Films of the ‘90s romanticized indecisiveness in a way that wasn’t expressed in the decade prior — mainly because the ‘80s destroyed the hippie-isms of the late ‘60s and ‘70s. But take a film like Singles, where Cameron Crowe used his “fly-by-night” life experiences as a Rock critic of the ‘70s to craft a ‘90s romantic comedy about the whimsy lives of Seattle dwellers in their 20’s pursuing love and idealized normalcy.
I was only 13 when Singles released on September 18, 1992, but I remember even back then wanting to live their lives so badly. The cast all had their “thing,” from Campbell Scott’s character of Steve Dunne being a by the book hopeless romantic, to Bridget Fonda’s role as Janet Livermore being the quintessential girl searching for “signs.” It was in many ways a mockup of Friends (which coincidentally arrived two years later), with the title Singles being both a euphemism for their respect relationship statuses and the types of apartments they inhabited all in the same Seattle building.
Singles was a microcosm of society in the ‘90s, where the youth were rebelling — not by all heading out to a field with pot and ‘shrooms, but by caring very little about structure and learning to live in the absence of traditional values, while still gradually falling into them. Every major cast member wanted the same thing: to fall in love. It just manifested itself in very very different ways. You might recognize the lead single from the soundtrack, Paul Westerberg’s “Dyslexic Heart,” being about a man reading love signs in a backwards manner. That was something everyone in Singles was guilty of. Hell, we still struggle with that today.
Revisiting the film as an adult, it’s easy to point out which cast member you identify with in 2015. It’s also very easy to see that these archetypal roles are still very prevalent in society, two decades later (23 years to the day) and a whole generation now identified as Millennials or Gen-Y. The difference being that while people in their 20’s fill these roles, nowadays so do people in their 30’s (blame Carrie Bradshaw), causing an almost generational melding. Generation XY?
Check out the prominent cast members of Singles below, and whom they represent today. You may be just one type of character or you maybe a combination. Either way, you fit into at least one of these roles and you may not even realize it.
Oh and if you’ve never watched Singles (how dare you?), then this is the ultimate spoiler alert. Also, special shout out to Jeremy Piven for playing the overzealous pharmacy cashier in the film. You’ve come a long way, baby.
Janet Livermore (Bridget Fonda)
Character: Janet worked in a coffeeshop and casually dated struggling artist-slash-florist Cliff. She previously dated Steve, but he became her best friend. Janet was in a relationship more than Cliff was though. Her life revolved around “signs.” If a man said “Bless you” when you sneezed, that meant he “really cared.” Waiting for Cliff to call, she says she won’t starve her body for a man…so she makes a salad. When she’s debating whether or not to call Cliff herself, she plays basketball with crumpled paper towels, deciding a basket meant to call him (she misses, but still caves).
Janet even considered getting breast implants because Cliff showed more of an interest in zaftig women than her sample size frame. Her career didn’t really matter as long as her closest friends congregated around their mugs at her job. That’s all she could really ask for. Her happy ending? Well, Cliff finally came around, but it ultimately took her treating him like shit for him to realize her value. Typical.
The Janet Livermore of now: She may work in a Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Her life revolves around Buzzfeed lists of “21 Signs He Secretly Loves You” or “15 Ways To Get That Guy’s Attention.” She may even pen a few pieces of her own on Thought Catalog, thinly veiled essays directed toward her modern-day “Cliff.” Her body images are probably still in tact, but thanks to shows like Botched, she may complain about her breasts yet not really entertain augmenting them. Still, she may do things like juice and try Insanity, because squats will give her the ass Cliff wants.
A really solid Cosmo quiz about love may rock her world and change her perspective of love temporarily, but she probably won’t be as good at ghosting as the real Janet Livermore was, because the 2015 model will relentlessly stalk Cliff’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Steve Dunne (Campbell Scott)
Character: Steve’s flimsy mantra was “play it cool.” His heart beat way too fast when he fell for someone (in this case Linda Powell), and he had to suppress every muscle in his body from getting down on one knee. When he hands Linda the remote for his garage, it was his version of U-Hauling, even though their relationship could have very well been a one-night stand. He had a great job working for the Seattle Department of Transportation, but he still had great taste in music and knew how to be sensible and cool. He was a total catch.
However, his biggest Achilles Heels were strangely his head and his heart. His head took in too much of his friends’ advice, while his heart fell head-first in love because Linda could carry on a conversation. When he gets Linda pregnant, he immediately wants to marry her (if she bit into her chili dog, that meant “yes”). And when she miscarries and skips town for work, she returns not really wanting to date. Steve turns into a recluse, only emerging when Linda changes her mind. Great job, but emotionally unstable. Sounds about right.
The Steve Dunne of now: He may work in finance or even an associate attorney. If he’s a creative, he has a job as a graphic designer in a corporate setting. Steve is the epitome of the friend zone. He has a million female friends and falls in love with every single one of them. They tell him frequently how amazing he is, but none of them want to see him naked. However, I for one would love to see Campbell Scott naked. He’s on OKCupid and his headline reads “Tired Of the Bar Scene.”
Steve is the greatest wedding date, because he even dances with the flower girl, but at the end of the night you still just want to give him a loving hug goodbye. He still doesn’t handle breakups well, but is probably the guy who hangs out with a girl for a week straight with no physical contact and assumes they’re dating.
Linda Powell (Kyra Sedgwick)
Character: Linda was previously wounded in love. She had fallen for a guy visiting from Spain who totally played her out – he was never heading back to his country, he just wanted to bone. She had a college boyfriend whose opening line was at a rave promoting safe sex, where he said, “It’s okay to loathe these people.” He still became her fallback option as an adult, even though she had no attraction to him whatsoever. Falling for Steve was against her better judgment, and when he didn’t call her immediately following a potential one-night stand, she cleans her toilet with the t-shirt he left behind. She gets pregnant and miscarries, and takes that as a cue to submerse herself in her career.
Linda tries to be aloof and independent and struggles with how to be her own person when she’s in love. Had she known Steve her entire life, he would have totally been friend zoned, but since he was hot and new, she managed to fall for him. They ended up together in the end, and her college boyfriend was probably at the wedding (made-up deleted scene).
The Linda Powell of now: She is probably a feminist journalist or political blogger who doesn’t necessarily struggle with dating because it always takes a backseat to her career. She finds herself not calling back internet dates because they chew funny or say something against Hillary Clinton, and goes speed dating with her friends just to check “NO” on every box. She signed up for Tinder and habitually “swipes left.”
When she does date someone, she’s cautiously optimistic, and if the relationship eventually crumbles, she isn’t surprised. The guy she does marry is probably a yoga instructor or a manager at Whole Foods. Either that, or she marries a woman.
Debbie Hunt (Sheila Kelley)
Character: Debbie wore a power suit and nobody knew what she actually did. She was addicted to dating, a serial dater of sorts. She was kind of neurotic – cut to the scene where she “scolds” her roommate for not washing a glass up to her standards – and was big on the phrase “Mr. Right.” Debbie was also the superficial friend who found herself saying “Call me!” but probably didn’t mean it. When she signs up for the video dating service “Expect The Best,” that’s when her true character (or lack there of) comes out. She finds a guy who is a bicycle enthusiast, and immediately buys cycling equipment to be whatever he needs her to be.
Unfortunately, the guy ends up wanting her roommate instead (who doesn’t own a bicycle). In the end she meets an older gentleman who has a son, and while he lives out of the country and sends her flowers every day, she still sends back a bouquet “just to be mysterious.”
The Debbie Hunt of now: She’s a publicist. No doubt about it. She has a million “best friends” in “the industry” and will only hang out with people during lunch hours or “for drinks.” Debbie is addicted to every form of dating from online to mobile. She has profiles on OKCupid, Match, EHarmony, and PlentyOfFish. She even has ones on JDate and ChristianMingle, but keeps her religious views vague enough for ambiguity on both. She also has Tinder and Happn, and a Continuing Ed course at Columbia has her on The League.
Her end game is probably the same as the film’s character, where she’ll marry an older gentleman—probably a divorcee or widower. At that point she will give up her career to be the most annoying soccer mom on the planet.
Cliff Poncier (Matt Dillon)
Character: Cliff was perhaps the greatest creation of Cameron Crowe’s mind. The fact that his best buddies in the film were Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament, and Chris Cornell proved he was the perfect representation of a guy in ‘90s Seattle. At the beginning of the film, he’s playing his guitar in his flannel shirt and cargo shorts while snuggling up to Jimi Hendrix’s gravesite. He worked as a florist, but wholeheartedly believed that his band Citizen Dick would somebody make it big despite terrible reviews in the local rock tribune. He had a thing for amazon women, making Janet’s boyish frame almost comical compared to the boobs hanging on his walls.
Let’s face it though, he just wanted groupies; a girlfriend would seem absurd once he “goes on tour.” He fails Janet’s sneezing test at one point in the film, but eventually passes it at the time he comes around to wanting her back. That’s only after he writes her a terrible song, attempts to change her car’s sound system and breaks it, and delivers flowers to her home (which were obviously free, because #florist). He’s the worst type of guy, but he’s hot, so there’s that.
The Cliff Poncier of now: Maybe he’s a DJ or maybe he’s a douchey Rock critic. He might even be a barista at Starbucks like 2015 Janet. But Cliff is a player. There is always a woman hotter than the next girl, and he plans to find her. He’ll be this way well into his 40’s, because the idea of “settling down” is absurd to him. He probably has Tinder, but definitely uses it for casual sex.
He’s still the guy your mother warned you about. And while in the film he eventually craves a commitment, the Cliff of today probably doesn’t—especially in big cities where there of tons of guys like him throwing back Jägerbombs or hanging out in microbreweries. No matter what, he’s not marriage material. Ever.