The lead character in “High Fidelity” explains that he was never fully committed to his girlfriend, that he always had one foot out the door. Funny, but that’s exactly how I was watching this film. Ready at any moment to ditch it. It wasn’t until it was pretty far along that I decided that I liked it.
My first problem is with John Cusack, he’s not my favorite. My second was with that lousy ‘have the character talk directly into the camera throughout the movie’ technique that often comes across as a giant story cop-out. Then there were the weird, dumb characters he calls friends. That nearly did it in for me. But being the trooper that I am I stuck it out.
Cusack plays Rob Gordon a used-record store owner who is deeply into pop music of the past, mostly bad, although he and his friends/workers think it’s great. There’s Barry, the loudmouth jerk (brilliantly played by Jack Black) and Dick, the subtle, dumb one (Todd Louiso in a very deft performance). They’re all into Top Fives. Top 5 favorite music hits, top-five movies, top-five anything and everything. That’s how obsessed with musical influences they are.
Rob is going through a major breakup with Laura (Iben Hjejle) who he’s been living with for some years. She’s grown; he hasn’t. And now’s the time he starts looking back on all his failed relationships trying to figure out what’s wrong with him. Lots. We learn about Penny, Charlie and Sarah. Of course it’s always them, not him. But Laura pegs him right. No growth, no commitment makes for some tough times between the two of them, especially when Rob has affairs in the middle of it all.
Top five reasons for his failed relationships: he’s a jerk, he’s a liar, he plays around, he’s obsessed with stupid music and he’s broke. What’s to like about this guy?
Cusack manages to make him sufficiently sympathetic, enough so that you won’t throw your popcorn at the screen, as he engages in endless confessionals to the audience. He admits he’s a jerk. We watch him twist and turn as he tries to get Laura back without even knowing why he wants her.
Cusack co-produced and co-wrote the final screen version; Steven Frears directed. It was adapted from Nick Hornby’s novel. Rated R for language and sexuality. Also features Lili Taylor as Sarah and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Charlie, along with Tim Robbins as Ian, the guy who takes up with Laura. Look for Joan Cusack, John’s sister, to play scrappy friend Liz.
Lotta says “High Fidelity” is sharp. It’s a Cusack moment to be sure.