Most of us know, or have met, someone like Rob (John Cusack), the main character of High Fidelity.
Rob’s love of music is more than an extreme hobby. He owns a record store that specializes in vinyl and spends his days arguing top-five lists with his two employees, Barry and Dick. Unfortunately, his girlfriend, Laura, just dumped him, a fact that has sent him into a self-absorbed tailspin as he tries to figure out, “Why?”
True to form, he starts with a top-five list: his top-five breakups of all time. This involves many monologues that break the fourth wall as he dissects each relationship, only to find that Laura did indeed break into the top-five. Much strange behavior ensues.
From early on in his career, Cusack has managed to ace a very specific kind of role: guys who are not the best looking, most successful or the smartest, but they are fundamentally decent. With the role of Rob, he adds another layer to this persona. The sardonic, self-deprecating sense of humor is still there, but Rob is not always the “easy to root for” character. He has his ups and downs, and reflectively, so does the script. This unevenness is balanced with hilarious depictions of obsessed hobbyists, a standout performance by Jack Black (as Barry, the obnoxious store employee from hell), a slew of dead-on cameos and a jam-packed soundtrack. Keep in mind that these are all in addition to the trademark Cusack speeches, which are insightful, funny and often hit close to home.
I have not read the Nick Hornby book on which the screenplay was based. When High Fidelity hit the theaters, I do remember reading that some changes were made, including shifting the story location from London to Chicago. Since the story is character-driven, the movie holds up very well as a work, in and of itself.
Both director Stephen Frears and Cusack show a true affinity for the story’s characters and their quirks. It is evident, from the lovingly-chosen soundtrack and old concert-Ts Rob and his cohorts wear to the verbal gymnastics they perform while spitting out their spontaneous “top-fives.”
Rob is the kind of guy who finds it easier to put together a mix tape than to realize the next step and get on with it. In other words, he’s muddling along — just like the rest of us.
HIGH FIDELITY, directed by Stephen Frears and starring John Cusack. Rated R. 114 minutes. ©2000 Touchstone Pictures/Touchstone Home Video.