Guest post by David from ThatMomentIn.com
Rob Gordon (John Cusask) loves music. He also loves women. He takes care of his music at a classic records store called Championship Vinyl. He takes care of his women, well, not so much. As it turns out, his current girl is on her way out the door and he’s naturally a little upset. Like the music aficionado he is, he sees life and love as a series of Top 5 lists, and claims, as she heads to her car that she won’t even make his Top 5 Break Up list. Or so he thinks.
Rob talks directly to us, breaking the 4th wall throughout the film, a trick that only he is capable of doing, giving us a running monologue to his story as he goes. He begins to tell us about the five worst break ups of his life, starting with grade school and ending with a woman who he readily admits was way out his league. He sees a pattern in his life and thinks that if he could just talk to each of these women and find out what went wrong, maybe he could better understand why things always fall apart. This proves to be very eye-opening as memories are not always what is truth.
Meanwhile, we meet his two employees at Championship Vinyl. One is Dick (Todd Louiso), an introverted audiophile who is like a quaking mouse at every turn but also very loyal. The other is the polar opposite. He’s Barry (Jack Black), and if you’re familiar with Jack Black than you know already what kind of character he is. Loud, boisterous and yet kinda charming, Barry is a like hurricane with every word that comes out of his mouth. He joins a band, and when Rob uses a little money to sign some young musics to a record label, Barry wants to be at the release party with his own band. It seems like a recipe for disaster.
All the while, Rob still pines for his latest lost love, Laura (Iben Hjejle) who has already moved in with another man, a creepy pony-tailed conflict manager with some serious Zen issues. She clearly still loves Rob but he is directionless, and as we learn, did some things that aren’t exactly the kind of things one does in a serious relationship. Does he have some regrets? Of course. Can he fix his mistakes? That’s uncertain.
Directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons), High Fidelity is a clever and surprisingly insightful look at love and romance through the eyes of a man on a journey of self discovery. What works best, and could have been the biggest failure, is the communication with the audience, mostly due to Cusack’s impassioned and personal performance that seems achingly genuine. He is aware of his failures as a boyfriend and lover and facing them becomes the hardest challenge of his life. The women of his past return like ghosts in a Dicken’s story update, teaching him that he is the reason why things fell apart, and is it there where he needs to begin if he wants to change. Each of these women are special and decidedly different, representing various stages in Rob’s life.
But there is a deeper problem for Rob. It’s in his core, a part of him that endlessly distracts him and maybe what a lot of men watching will feel most connected too. Worse, he doesn’t even realize how overpowering it is on him until often it is too late. While dedicated to one thing, he is off in another direction almost desperate for that to be closer to him. When he catches himself and recognizes its destructive force, there is an emotional moment when he shouts, “When is this going to stop?” What that is and why are two fundamental parts of Rob that define who he is and the two parts he needs to change if he’s ever going to have the life he wants.
High Fidelity spends a lot of time thinking about music. It’s always there in some degree, with the music store, Rob’s vast collection of records, the musicians he meets, and even with the wonderful impromptu Top 5 lists he, Barry and Dick create throughout the film, representing changing moods in the story. While many films rely on soundtracks to be background music (and sell albums), here it fits perfectly, with music playing where it should be in places where it matters. Rob even comments on it and it adds a nice depth to the character. Cusack is, in fact, right at home in this role, and like Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, he is a person you want to see do it right. You cheer for him even when he makes mistakes because you know there is good inside. The title speaks of duty and promises made but also the accuracy of which an image or sound is reproduced. Rob seeks both.
TRIVIA COOKIE: This is the eighth film John and Joan Cusack have appeared in together.