Rated R - Running Time: 1:53 - Released 3/31/00
With the advent of rock and roll music around the mid-20th century, there emerged a culture that could perhaps best be described as "pop junkies." Mostly males, this group spent their time hanging around record stores, listening to the newest output from whatever bands they fancied, learning tons of virtually useless information (now known as "trivia"), and compiling lists of their favorites, much to the bafflement of their female friends. I know this because I was one. And it is such a person who is the main character of High Fidelity, a humorously philosophical and pop-music-soaked study of the romantic relationship as seen through the eyes of a music geek. The writers, producers, and star of the similarly engaging Grosse Pointe Blank (D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack) have joined forces with British director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, Mary Reilly) for this hilarious and thought-provoking treatise, based on the book by Nick Hornby.
The first thought expressed by Rob Gordon (Cusack), sitting
in front of his stereo with his headphones on even as his girlfriend
Laura (Iben Hjejle) packs her things to leave him, is "Do
I listen to pop music because I'm miserable, or am I miserable
because I listen to pop music?" This is the kind of deep
thought that permeates the film, explored not only by Rob but
by his employees at his vintage record store. There's Barry (Jack
Black), a conceited, openly rude, holier-than-thou would-be critic
who dares anyone, including potential customers, to disagree with
his tastes. And there's Dick (Todd Louiso), a quiet geek who is
nonetheless a fountain of information that sometimes even outshines
Barry and Rob. Knowing better than to consult them about his girl
trouble (although they tend to offer their advice anyway), Rob
decides to ask all his "top five" ex-girlfriends why
he is so prone to being dumped.
Continually negotiating with Laura about reconciliation, and
enduring alternately the advice and reproach of his sister Liz
(Joan Cusack, John's real-life sister), Rob contacts high school
and college girlfriends (Joelle Carter and Catherine Zeta-Jones),
and a woman with whom he shared a co-dependent relationship based
on their mutual antipathy for the opposite sex (Lili Taylor).
At the same time as all this, he has an inexplicable overnight
encounter with a pop artist named Marie DeSalle (Lisa Bonet),
herself also recovering from a bad breakup.
Although the story, when described, sounds like a rather pointless
venture, there is more there if one cares to look. With Cusack
addressing the camera, acting as both narrator and main character,
he explores the philosophy of why relationships work or don't
work, and the inexplicable nature of romantic and sexual impulses,
while maintaining the character of an obsessive obsessed with
obsessing. DeVincentis's snappy dialogue and Hornby's quirky characters
keep the film from getting bogged down in emotional wallowing;
it maintains a generally upbeat tone, and is at its best moments
hysterically witty, while still generating some valid insights
into why we act the way we do with the opposite sex.
Much of this film's success rests on its talented cast members.
Although Cusack is the main character and does a good job as such,
Jack Black invariably steals every scene he's in. His characterization
of Barry, the defiantly proud loser-geek, is full of energy and
attitude; he imbues every word with a comic punch. Though this
is the first American film for Danish actress Iben Hjejle, she
clearly has mastered her American accent; I had no idea she wasn't
from this country, and her portrayal of Laura is likable and energetic.
High Fidelity is full of great music, relationship angst, and compulsive listmaking everything a pop junkie deals with on a daily basis. Being a record store owner at heart, I found it loads of fun. ****½
See Current Reviews
See FilmQuips Archive