Droid defines the decades best movies – #19 High Fidelity (2000)
And so begins ‘High Fidelity’, a movie so effortlessly entertaining and honest that you wonder why more movies aren’t like this.
Rob Gordon (John Cusack) has just been dumped again. His girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) has moved out telling him “you’re still the same guy you were when we met. And I’m not.” Translation being “I’m successful now and you’re still a loser with no ambition”. But Rob’s used to rejection. He immediately makes a Top 5 list of his most painful breakups, taunting her that she doesn’t even make the list. “If you really wanted to mess me up, you should’ve gotten to me earlier!”
Rob’s a pop culture geek. The focus of his obsession is music. He owns a vintage record store in Chicago, and spends all day making Top 5 lists with his two employees Barry (Jack Black) a loud, obnoxious know-it-all and Dick (Todd Louiso) a shy, quiet wallflower. Wallowing in self-pity, Rob decides to contact the girls on his Top 5 to find out just what’s wrong with him and why they chose to break up with him. He revisits his first kiss, the girl who wouldn’t put out, the dream girl and the rebound, all while harassing Laura into coming back to him, despite the fact that she has moved in with a ridiculous pony-tailed twat named Ian (Tim Robbins).
Based on the great Nick Hornby book, the story’s been transported from London to Chicago without any noticeable issues. The story and characters are so universal and recognisable that it could’ve been set on Mars and would’ve worked. I know people like this. I AM like this. What I particularly like about Rob is that although he’s a pretty decent guy, he can be a bit of a dick. Which makes him seem real, not some made up fantasy audience surrogate. The past girlfriends are so dead on that it’s scary, especially the dream girl, who is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in a pitch perfect performance. You know someone like her. The details might now be the same, but the movie uncannily captures the thoughts, feelings and emotions of re-evaluating your life after a break up.
Credit here must go to Cusack, who has adapted Hornby’s novel with D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, and Scott Rosenberg. They have taken the unconventional approach and chosen to break the fourth wall, having Cusack talk directly to camera. This choice keeps the “voice” of the novel, and also allows them to lift large chunks of dialogue. It never feels forced and from the first moment Cusack turns and looks into camera, you go with it. Cusacks performance is great. In fact everyone’s performance is great, but the stand out is Jack Black as Barry. When he walks into the shop for the first time, he grabs the movie with both hands and throttles it. It’s a brilliant performance, and one which reminds me that Black actually is a good (and very funny) actor in the right role.
Director Stephen Frears is hugely underrated. He’s directed some great movies, including ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, ‘The Grifters’, and ‘The Hi-Lo Country’. In less talented hands, ‘High Fidelity’ could have been gimmicky and annoying, but he makes the fantasy cutaways (like one to Bruce Springsteen), the talking directly to camera, or the flashbacks, all feel like a natural part of the film. He has made a film that appears to be effortlessly relaxed and familiar. One that leaves you feeling great after it’s over. Not many films do that.
The soundtrack is filled with great music, both known and unknown to me. “I will now sell five copies of The Three EP’s by The Beta Band.” Yep, it is good. And when I first saw this, I didn’t know Black could sing, so when he does, it makes the surprising moment in the film that much more authentic.
‘High Fidelity’ is a breath of fresh air in what isn’t exactly my favourite genre. Romantic comedies too often feel like mass market fairy tales that reaffirm the unhealthy illusion of romance. Sure, boy and girl end up together at the end, but it feels natural and realistic. The characters actually compromise, grow and evolve. And it’s a pleasure to watch them doing so.