High Fidelity (DVD, 2000) Reviews
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High Fidelity (DVD, 2000)

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A Winner for Music Geeks, and other Nerds

Apr 2, 2000 (Updated Sep 21, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Many humorous scenes, screenwriting, Fine acting by Cussack, great performances by the supporting cast, intelligent fare about relationships

Cons:Not for action seekers of mindless fare (if this insults you, the film isn't for you;-), not highly intellectual (if you prefer that type of thing)


Now that the Oscars have been awarded and it's a full two months before the teeny-bopper summer releases deluge the neighborhood multiplexes, movie aficionados can expect more intelligent fare to grace the screens. High Fidelity fits in perfectly here. I was expecting a quality film, and I was not disappointed.

Set in Chicago, Rob Gordon (John Cusack) owns an independent used record store that attracts music geeks, including two guys that he hired for three days a week that show up every day because they are total music nerds who have no better place to go. Dick (Todd Louiso) portrays a mousy non-entity while Barry (John Black) outrageously entertains us and sends shoppers with underdeveloped musical taste to the mall. These two "musical morons" represent a good portion of Rob's inner nature, and the trio often invents various top 5 lists-top 5 songs about death, top 5 opening tracks, etc.

The essential core of the movie, however, explores relationships in a hip way, reminiscent of many Woody Allen films, yet in a less intellectual fashion. Instead, High Fidelity has fun showing the process of falling in love/infatuation, dealing with breakups, and exploring age-old fears about making commitments. It's no surprise that Cusack has previously apprenticed with Allen in Shadows and Fog and Bullets Over Broadway since he carries off the first person narrative format extremely well here.

The story begins as Rob's latest girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) is dumping him -- you remember the time(s). It's when your mind goes numb, you immerse yourself into hurtin' tunes, and begin analyzing what's gone wrong with this relationship and every other one you've ever had. That's where Rob is at, and he launches into his top 5 breakups of all time attempting to assuage his loss with the solace that Laura doesn't even rank in his list.

Rob mixes a series of flashbacks with current action, and we soon realize that he's not so much ranking a top 5 breakup list. Instead, it seems to chronicle every significant breakup he's had, including the grade school one that lasted 6 hours. It's to Cusack's credit that he makes us like him despite some notable creepy actions he's carried out with his various relationships.

Part of this is due to the intelligent script based on Nick Hornby's book. At one point Rob muses about "what came first-the music or the misery." Do we become miserable and then listen to the hurtin' tunes, or do we become miserable because we listen to this kind of music? Later, Rob realizes that he's always had a problem handling commitment and has lived his whole life as a professional critic, whether it's with his musically snobbish vinyl record shop, with his autobiographically filed personal vinyl collection, or with his various human relationships. Credit the scriptwriters with these and other moments.

Another fine scene comes when Rob asks whether there's a chance that he and Laura may get together again. When she replies that she "doesn't know," Rob seizes the opportunity and the logic by stating the obvious, and comparing this statement with a doctor who may not know if a patient will live. Laura gives it a "9% chance." We may not know if these odds are to Rob's liking, but we are satisfied with the exchange. It rings so true.

While this is not as intellectually stimulating as Shakespeare or even Igmar Bergman or Woody Allen at their best, it's certainly deep enough to rank among the top 5 intelligent movies released during the first three months of the year 2000-probably in the top 2. Director Steven Frears, who previously directed Cusack in The Grifters, has fashioned a quirky film that works well and is spiced with a number of humorous vignettes.

One of my favorites occurs when we see Laura's current middle-aged, pony tailed boyfriend, Ian (Tim Robbins) visit Rob's store since he wants to clear the air with his conflict resolution skills. After Ian says "Shall we leave it at that," we are treated to three possible versions of what Rob and his two alter egos would like to say and do. These are hilarious and had the audience and me laughing uncontrollably. I'm not going to reveal exactly what these are to avoid spoiling your enjoyment, but if you can imagine how you've felt about a rival that now has the affections of a recent busted romance ... I think you get the picture.

While Cussack has connected once again and re-established himself as one of the premier young actors of the era with his second consecutive winning role after Being John Malkovich, he is supported with a strong ensemble cast. The cameos by Joan Cussack, Tim Robbins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor, and Lisa Bonet are all notable and effective, but it's the main supporting characters that give life to High Fidelity.

Iben Hjejle tearfully projects honest confusion and hurt during the breakup scenes, and we feel for her, especially when we find that Cussack isn't exactly a noble martyr in this relationship crisis. The two shop workers especially lend a great deal of enjoyment to the film. I found Todd Louiso reminiscent of many geeky people I've known over the years-guys oozing with sincerity and supportive of fellow geeks, but are socially challenged.

The real "new" discovery here is John Black, who has appeared in over 20 feature films, but this is the first one that I remember him in. Black supplies some truly funny sight gags, some great quips, and actually shocks us with his Marvin Gaye-like singing. Dare I compare him to comic genius John Belushi? The film is set in Chicago!

The movie may be a little tedious for anyone looking for pure escapism and mindless fare, yet it may not satisfy a pure intellectual who doesn't care for quality music -- oops, that was music snobbery coming out. You are simply not going to see action packed car chases or demolitions, nor are you going to see symbolic scenes that you can discuss at length at your local coffeehouses.

Some may find the first person narration grating, especially if you don't relate to Cussack or his point of view. I'd suggest that viewers attempt to get away from a judgmental view of Cussack's character and enjoy the 2 hour trip for its gems. And there is a lot to like about the film.

I found High Fidelity entertaining and very relatable. Many of us are geeks or snobs in one area or another. I'll admit to being a music geek who thinks that people who don't appreciate real music like the blues or Dylan are lower musical life forms. I also feel similarly about movies. But don't think that you have to be a music aficionado to appreciate High Fidelity -- the kind of people who inhabit Rob's Championship Vinyl store are the same types that could inhabit your specialty: computers, antiques, sports, wines, stamp collecting, etc. You do know these people, and you're likely to be hanging out with them after the movie.

To show how starved I've been for quality film entertainment the past two months before the Oscars, I even stayed for the unique end credits that are fashioned much like vinyl record shop icons. I'd definitely rate these end credits among the top 5 of all time -- I'll have to think a bit to come up with the other four titles.



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A male-perspective confessional about being an adult--but not acting like one--HIGH FIDELITY is the story of Rob Gordon (John Cusack), the thirtysomet...
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