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.


  1. It’s been hard for me to not find a slot in our 12 categories to write about this one. One of my all-time faves. Hornby must have studied my behaviour for this one.

  2. This was my next pick- luckily since it’s not until next Wednesday I hadn’t started a write up yet. Great pick. A perfect movie- and what a great soundtrack- not only the songs that made the official soundtrack but songs that are played in the movie that didn’t end up on the soundtrack..

    • Sorry to scoop you! It is a goody too, like you suggest- film’s great and the soundtrack is good as you should think a film about a record store would be. I might have been one of those customers who’d buy the Beta Band record he played had I been in the store…

  3. I don’t know if this will make any sense, but John Cusack’s Rob in High Fidelity, Ben Stiller’s Roger in Greenberg, and Bryan Cranston’s Walter in Breaking Bad are my favorite despicable yet utterly likable protagonists! Rob can be such a selfish prick, but at least he says and does the things most of us would want to say and do when you’re working with Jack Black at a record store, and you’re a hopeless romantic who flips through relationships with women like flipping through vinyl. One of my favorite movie memories in college when it premiered at the theatres, and we had no idea what was in store (beside all the record nostalgia). Thanks dusting this one off!

    • My pleasure! Yeah, I think I notice it more now than I did in 2000 that Rob is at times a jerk, but he has some good points too and like I said, he at least tries and matures a little over the course of the film. On one point he’s nicer than me though – man, if I’d been him I’d have fired Barry probably the first day he came in!

  4. I love the way Hornby writes and this one along with Juliet, Naked are two great movies adapted from his novels. I love Cusack in this. Had forgotten it was set in Chicago. I appreciate the personal touches you added to your review on what the book and movie mean for you. Excellent choice and write-up, Dave.

  5. Great choice Hans…I love this movie. It’s very quotable and probably my favorite movie with Jack Black…like you said…a little of him goes a long way…they used him right in this. John Cusack is fun to watch in any movie anyway…but this one is great.

    • Thanks Max… there are some great quotes to be sure! Barry talking about “I Just Called To Say I Love You” is hilarious – “ooh! Is she in a coma?” and his referencing Terrible works by formerly great artists; the opening soliloquoy from Rob about did he listen to so much pop music because he was sad or was he sad because he listened to so much pop….

    • The first thing I thought of was I Just Called… a great movie. A few months ago I watched this one and Grosse Pointe Blank back to back.

  6. We had the poster on the wall in our current house for years. When the film came out a few friends of mine went to see it one night while I was bar tending so couldn’t join them. They came back jabbering about how they had just seen Steve The Movie. If only I were so cool

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