Image courtesy of Touchstone Pictures.
Once in awhile, a rare film comes along that cleverly disguises itself as a guy comedy, but in the case of High Fidelity (2000), it gives a realistic look at true romance from a man's point of view. It's one of those films that pretty much has it all - great acting, great music, great plot and great cinematography in the great city of Chicago. This film and buffalo wings for a week straight helped me get through a breakup once. Wouldn't recommend eating wings for that long, but the rewatchability factor of this movie is very high.
The plot is pretty straightforward. John Cusack, playing an evolved version of his memorable turn as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything (1989) - the misfit with the heart of gold - is Rob Gordon, a 30-something guy who just got dumped by his girlfriend Laura. He can't deal with it. He runs a dead-end record store on the edge of town that attracts every social reject within a 10-mile radius, and two of them work there (one of which is Barry, played by Black Jack, back when he was still fat and funny.) Based off the novel by Nick Hornby, which I should really get down to brass tacks and read, it chronicles Rob's evolution from boy to man, and how to commit without losing sight of yourself and everything you hold dear.
It's not your typical romance, and in many ways the film is downright painful. It shows the hard knocks you take when one puts their heart on the line, and how all of us at some point or another have to commit to SOMETHING - be it a life goal, a person, or hell, just ourselves - in order to stay sane. It's also a smart, funny take on life lived on the frayed edges of society, and answers the question of what exactly does happen to those offbeat guys with hearts of gold that we ignored in high school? Turns out they're just like the rest of us - they screw up and take the heat for it, but the best of us pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try, try again.
I'm a big fan of Iben Hjejle, who plays Laura. She's not pretty in a traditional sort of way, but she is attractive in a very REAL way. She makes mistakes too and is not held up as some unattainable, flawless being. Everyone in this film makes mistakes and it comes as close to true romance as a film can get without cutting too close to the quick. It is the humor that acts as our novocaine.
And humor there is plenty of. Jack Black is in top form, long before the Hollywood machine slicked and slimmed him down to barely a shadow of the hard rocker funnyman he used to be. And the hapless Dick, played wonderfully by Todd Louiso, is the perfect foil. Cusack doesn't attempt to control the show even though this is his story. He knows on some level just like life itself, things are going to unfold the way they want to, and he resigns himself to sigh and grab another cigarette as Barry and Dick argue over their "Top Five" musical artists.
There's a kind of elitism that I can relate to - a know-it-allness about trivial matters that these characters cling to that I can't help but relate to as well. (Heck, just look at this blog.) These people are not likeable. They are rude and gauche and probably haven't showered in a couple of days. But by God, they know what good music is and what it is supposed to sound like. And if the rest of you don't agree, piss off with ya.
I was interested to see that in 2006 there was a musical made from this film that flopped hard. I decided on a whim to download the music from it and see what it had to say for itself. The music, for the most part, is great. What is not so great is that it's really silly. The balance that the film so lovingly creates between the sublime and the ridiculous is somehow lost in the happy-go-lucky musical numbers. Barring what I just said, you really should click here and give a listen to the opening number "The Last Real Record Store on Earth." It was a good try and some of the tracks are pretty decent, but a couple of good songs a musical does not make. And let's face it - John Cusack will always be Rob Gordon to me.
Die-hard Cusack fans will get a kick out of a few cast choices - Joan Cusack, John's real-life sister, plays his sister Liz in the film, and Lili Taylor, who played Lloyd Dobler's best friend in Say Anything comes back as one of Rob's ex girlfriends. The DVD extras aren't much to shout about, but for a comedy that hits the heart maybe a bit too hard but manages to keep the warm fuzzies around, pop this one in today for a great movie both sexes will enjoy.
If you happen to like this film, you may want to check out Hot Tub Machine, which also features John Cusack and directed by Steve Pink, who was co-producer of High Fidelity. (But maybe not as a Valentine's Day option.) It has the same brand of biting humor, if perhaps lacking some of the brains. You can read my review of it here.