High Fidelity – 2000
Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Lisa Bonet, Jack Black, Todd Luiso, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Screenplay D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, Scott Rosenberg and Cusack taken from the novel by Nick Hornby
Mix tapes. They’ve been lost in time, replaced playlists on iTunes. It’s not the same. There was a time when everything was explained in terms of Top 5 Lists…and Top 10’s if the well was deep enough. I had over 1300 albums. But I did not have as many as my best friend, Steve, who had around 2000, so I didn’t have a problem. I didn’t have my own house, either.
John Cusack was top 5 when High Fidelity came out. I am not sure if this meant he sold movies better than others, but to geeks like me, his movies allowed someone as geeky as I was the pleasure of being even just as obsessed with minutiae, but with movie star looks. His inconsistent career was on a major upswing, and with this film, almost all of the risks paid off.
As Rob Gordon, record store owner and one of a trio of self-appointed snobs who work at the store, Cusack takes us on a musical journey of his love life. There is a running dialogue that breaks the 4th wall, and it works. It’s a advanced version of a John Hughes film, but somehow more immature than anything Hughes ever did. Gordon is not an innocent protagonist. In fact, he’s kind of a self-obsessed asshole. The girls he’s been with run the gamut from wretched to sad sack. He’s wanting to get the last one back, and she’s in between.
The biggest risk of the film would be that last girl, Laura (played by Hjejle, with a bad European haircut). She is an unusual looking woman, but that only makes her appearance more interesting. Her performance is nuanced and melancholy, but it is believable. She’s definitely more grounded than Rob, even if her rebound is with a ridiculously hipped-out Tim Robbins. The person we see is someone who might be worth going crazy over.
The crazy part seems just childishness at this point, but then, I have been married for 10 years and have 2 kids. Rob Gordon represents an unmarried and undecided man. Hopelessly romantic, and clueless to the things that really matter. Instead, we have endless lists. He has an opportunity to act, when Laura faces a true tragedy, but instead finds himself listening to Top 5 lists about death. At least he beats Jack Black at one point. The very next scene, he’s going over his own list…during the service. He has a ways to go.
Jack Black has never been more annoying, yet he’s rarely been more funny. Most of his scenes are the ones that we remember from the film and they were definitely the ones they showed in the commercials. The contrast between he and the timid Louiso is extreme, but it works. There is much that the other two could learn from his interactions with his girlfriend (Sara Gilbert, in just about the last thing I remember seeing her in).
Stephen Frears moves smoothly through the past and the present. We are granted real insight as we see real development. The story is about a fear of growing up, but there is not much flinching in the reasoned monologue that Cusack presents the viewer with. We know he’s been through all of this by the time we are seeing it, but his vantage point has not changed much. It does change significantly, though. Frears can keep the story sharp and crisp, but he is not afraid to let actors improvise a little.
The music in the film is as varied as anything ever produced in a movie about songs. One can feel several enjoyable hours spent bringing the music to the fore. If the songs don’t resonate at first, the reactions of Barry (Black), Dick (Louiso) and Rob allow the viewer to gravitate towards that feeling. It’s not important that the songs are universal to make the feeling of categorizing them so. This is one of the few times where having more than a couple of writers still feels cohesive, and that can be attributed to the material, and to Frears.
The thing about High Fidelity is that it’s so confused and lacking clear vision; just like love. While Rob can list the traits that he loves about Laura in one deeply intimate narrative with the viewer, it does not stop him from running into a brick wall the very next opportunity. After spending half of the movie apart, they get back together, and things are going better than ever…until he starts making a mix tape for another girl.
Two days later, he’s asking his girlfriend to marry him. I know the feeling. Everybody likes the feeling of singing in their sleep, but eventually adults grow tired of that.
(****1/2 out of *****)
Now for Singing in My Sleep: