I like some musicals well enough (Grease, even The Sound of Music), and at times I love watching music movies of artists I like in concert. But since I love books, love reading and love romcom-style movies, how could my choice for the “Music or musicals” category in this exercise not be more obvious. My sixth choice in the Movie Draft Event is the 2000 film High Fidelity.
Not many movies have me marking my calendar in advance for opening, but this one was one of the rare exceptions. That’s because I’d read the 1995 Nick Hornby novel on which it was based a few years before and that had become a favorite in my personal library. I found it relatable, funny and at times heart-breaking. To my surprise and joy, the Hollywood adaptation (directed by Brit Stephen Frears) stuck to the book remarkably closely, other than the obvious fact that the setting had been moved across the sea from London to Chicago. Apparently even Hornby was surprised at how faithful to the original Hollywood had been. “It appears to be a film in which John Cusack reads my book,” he’s said.
Cusack is the lead character, Rob, and is a perfect fit for the role. The capsule summary of it is essentially that he is a young 30-something who runs a run-down little specialty record shop and begins to wonder what went wrong with his life. This occurs when his long-time girlfriend, Laura (played by Danish actress Iben Hjejle, a relative unknown over here) splits up with him and moves out. Laura’s now an increasingly successful lawyer. He feels he can’t live up to what she wants or deserves. Besides, she’s changed. She still loves him but feels the problem is that he hasn’t changed. Other than growing lazier and more cynical since they first hooked up. By now Rob’s life largely consists of spending days at his record shop, co-staffed by the loud and obnoxious Barry (an over-the-top Jack Black) and quiet, nerdy Dick (Todd Louiso). The three have little in common other than their love of oft-obscure music and music trivia and making list after list of “top fives”… Top Five Side One, Track Ones. Top Five Songs About Death (“Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Gordon Lightfoot” Dick suggests. “”You bastard! That’s so good, that shoulda been mine!” Barry responds). And looking down their noses at most of their customers who know less than them about music. Rob’s nights; at home listening to , or re-organizing his countless thousands of records. All vinyl. Rob is a music purist.
When Laura leaves, he goes through a cycle of reactions consisting largely of anger and self-pity. He makes up a Top 5 Breakups list and cheers himself by yelling out the window at her she didn’t make the list. Still, he can’t help wonder what his mom pointedly asks him – essentially, why can’t he hold onto a woman? He decides to get back in touch with the “top 5 breakups” and deconstruct what went wrong in those relationships. He manages to have a fling with a local singer. All the while he feels worse, finally acknowledging Laura’s importance. “She didn’t make me miserable, or anxious or ill at ease. Y’know, it sounds boring but it wasn’t.”
Circumstances give them one last chance together. I won’t give away the ending, but suffice to say by the end, Rob’s figured out a few things a little better and sees a way forward.
The casting of the movie was perfect. Cusack was the downbeat, rather depressed everyman the character required, ordinary but with enough going on to make one believe he could be more. Black was in full-out, egocentric gag mode which I tire of quickly but in his limited role, he added some of the movie’s funniest bits. Hjejle was likewise a perfect choice for her role, a subdued but bright, attractive but not bimboish kind of woman we could easily imagine being in awe of the Rob she met years earlier, the fun record store guy by day/ club DJ by night Rob. Even the minor characters like Catherine Zeta Jones as the exotic, worldly Charley (another of Rob’s top 5 breakups) were spot on.
The movie wasn’t a smash, but it did turn a profit and was largely well-reviewed. Now a word of confession from me. I like the movie quite a lot. But back in 2000, I loved the movie. For some years it was one of my “top 5 films” of all-time. I was a single guy about Rob’s age and could relate to his inertia and his inability to figure out why relationships came and went. I liked the movie so much it was the reason I bought a DVD player…when it came out on home release, I couldn’t find a VHS so I figured it was time to at last adopt the new technology so I could watch it when I wanted. Now, looking back on it, Rob can be a bit of a … well, one of his co-workers names let’s say. He was at times too oblivious and too inconsiderate of those around him. But he’s human enough, smart enough and witty enough to be likable still. More importantly, as he grows through the movie and finally, as he says by the end has being a better man figured out for the first time. As I hope I have in the twenty years or more since it hit the big screen!
Funny, intelligent, relatable and with a decent soundtrack too (not to mention a Bruce Springsteen cameo)… I give High Fidelity four LPS – original, not re-released, mind you – out of five.