High Fidelity is drenched in music. And its characters use this music as a way of living, a way of expressing themselves and ultimately a way of categorising the people around them and settling on whether they owe them any respect and to what extent. Your top five songs, top five artists, top five albums etc, are going to determine whether you’re in or out. And whatever you do, don’t choose any of that sentimental, tacky crap, like Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called To Say I Love You, and definitely don’t give a diplomatic answer which recognises everyone as equally great in order to chicken out of this test. Because liking both Marvin Gaye and Art Garfunkel is like supporting both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Stephen Frears turns Nick Hornby’s hilarious book of real, everyday-life obsession into a beautifully quirky and effortless comedy film. Everything about High Fidelity feels natural and spontaneous, real and sincere. The characters are consumed by every aspect of life, from music to women, and they refuse to back down when it comes to their rock principles, immature behaviour and desire to have it their own way. The bar is not high, the bar is somewhere else. And to meet these people’s requirements, it doesn’t take being great, it takes knowing exactly how to accommodate each character’s fixation.
Rob Gordon (John Cusack) owns a second-hand record store in Chicago, where he works with quiet-pop-culture-geek Dick (Todd Louiso) and musically superior Barry (Jack Black). The story begins with Rob having just been dumped by Laura, his latest girlfriend, a breakup that comes to join the long line of breakups that he’s experienced the last few years. Narrating his story straight to the camera, making top-5 lists about everything, taking his own results extremely seriously and spending most of his time obsessing about everything around him as well as wondering what he could be doing wrong as to never manage to really, fully connect with a woman, he steadily and unwillingly realises that he always likes a woman more when he doesn’t have her.
The screenplay sign D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack and Scott Rosenberg. And although it has the audience laughing, keeps the lines coming and ensures the book’s spirit and atmosphere is not lost, the most important thing that both the book and the screenplay accomplish is the fact that the characters have jumped out of real, everyday life. They’re the music freaks, the rock snubs, they’re you and me. And this is exactly what makes Rob Gordon easy to relate to, as well as what makes Barry so amusing. All the things you’re thinking but don’t want to say, they’ll do the honours.
Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, My Beautiful Launderette, The Grifters) could not have done a better job directing this everlasting battle of the sexes. With an entertainingly philosophical book providing the material and John Cusack taking the lead roles of the protagonist and narrator, the director’s film allows self-deprecation and sarcasm to take the front row, music becomes a metaphor for life, love and all kinds of relationships and being misunderstood is yet another euphemism for self-involved. Cusack is highly engaging, realistic and very much where he belongs and Nick Hornby’s book is brilliantly turned into a film that does it great justice.
High Fidelity is cool, funny, cutting edge, cynical, sarcastic and moral in a very realistic and down-to-earth kind of way. Childish anger and immaturity give way to acceptance, which gradually allows for a slow and painful self-discovery to follow. The music embraces all these stages and rock becomes yet another character, just as lost, just as immature and definitely just as over-confident, sometimes even arrogant. But this close to the person, music can’t help but evolve alongside him, mature with him, compliment all his emotions, major life changes and moods. Or is it the other way round? Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?…