FILM REVIEW ***1/2
Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by Scott Rosenberg, D.V. Devincentis, Steve Pink, and John Cusack
Starring John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, and Jack Black
Since the first time I watched Better Off Dead in grade school, I’ve always enjoyed the eccentric, sarcastic roles of John Cusack and his infallible ability to make me connect with the amusing plight of his characters. High Fidelity is certainly no exception. Cusack co-writes and stars in this honest, witty comedy that gives us a delightful and unusually realistic look into the world of relationships and the love of music.
Directed by British filmmaker Stephen Frears, High Fidelity is based on a 1995 novel by Nick Hornby. After previous unsatisfactory drafts, Cusack decided to help screenwriters Scott Rosenberg, Steve Pink, and D.V. Devincentis complete the script, transferring the story to the city of Chicago. As he did with Grosse Pointe Blank in 1997, Cusack proves his ability to write an intelligent and humorous script, driven by quirky and easily identifiable characters.
Cusack plays Rob Gordon, the romantically unfortunate owner of a used-record store, Championship Vinyl. A musical know-it-all, Rob has lived his entire life listening to one depressing love song after another. “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” he questions. At his financially struggling store, Rob is assisted by Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso), two young guys who know even more about music and pop culture than Rob does and spend all day quibbling over minute details of obscure musical trivia and creating Top 5 lists, such as The Top 5 First Songs on the First Side of an Album, or The Top 5 Songs About Death.
After having just broken up with his latest girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle), Rob makes up another Top 5 list: his all-time Top 5 Breakups. He takes us through each one of them, from the girl he first kisses under the bleachers to the beautiful and self-involved Charlie (Catherine Zeta-Jones). At first, Laura does not make the list, but as his feelings unfold, this breakup becomes one of the toughest of the bunch. When he learns from Liz (Joan Cusack), Laura’s best friend, that Laura has moved in with Ian, a New Age conflict resolution expert played by Tim Robbins. Rob neurotically obsesses over the possibility of Laura being more sexually satisfied by Ian and refuses to leave her alone.
Rob clearly has difficulties when it comes to relationships. With one of his Top 5, he was too sexually demanding. With another, he wasn’t exotic enough. In Laura’s case, he had trouble staying focused with the relationship and making that final commitment. His biggest problem, however, comes in dealing with the breakups themselves. He never seems to like the girl too much until after she leaves, at which time all he can do is sulk. Even though all of the breakups weren’t his fault, he becomes obsessed with figuring out why he drives women away.
Rob narrates the film for us. Instead of a typical voice-over narration, however, he talks directly to the camera. The technique works well here. Rob is a neurotic character who spends the entire movie trying to rationalize his failures with relationships. He needs to talk things out, and he certainly isn’t going to do that with Dick or Barry. So, he talks to himself instead (to us actually), as many of us might do in a similar situation. The audience acts as his counselor, listening to him during a troubling time.
High Fidelity gives one of the truest representations of human relationships that you will find in a movie. We don’t watch Rob in a typical movie circumstance, where, in the middle of some exciting conflict or drama, he falls in love with the perfect woman, with whom he will live happily ever after. Such a fantasy doesn’t happen too often in real life. High Fidelity realistically shows us that many relationships don’t succeed. Rob, like most people, goes through many cycles, in which he has a girlfriend, breaks up, takes time to deal with it, and then moves on. In time, he comes to realize that a fantasy relationship, in which he is entirely satisfied, does not exist, and he manages to be honest with himself and recognize when he has found someone that he shouldn’t let go.
The movie is at its best in the record store, where we delightfully observe the idiosyncrasies of Dick and Barry. We know them very well. They are the guys from the video store who know every cult film ever made, or the guys down the hall who know everything there is to know about computers. They are passionate about their knowledge and stubborn in their opinions.
You won’t leave the theater with any profound realizations about relationships or some fantasized hope of finding that perfect love, but I assure you, you will enjoy and connect with this personal descent into Rob’s life. With witty dialogue, likable characters, and an honest perspective, High Fidelity is a must-see.