19) High Fidelity (2000)
Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by John Cusack, Steve Pink, Scott Rosenberg & D.V. DiVincentis
Based on the novel by Nick Hornby
Starring: John Cusack, Jack Black, Todd Louiso, Iben Hjejle, Joan Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones & Tim Robbins
One moment they weren’t there. Not in any form that interested us, anyway. And then the next, you couldn’t miss them. They were everywhere, and they’d grown breasts. And we wanted… Actually, we didn’t even know what we wanted. But it was something interesting. Disturbing, even.
John Cusack has cornered the market on romance. From every angle. In one corner, he’s got Say Anything…, the ultimate falling-in-love movie. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s this. High Fidelity. I’d call it the ultimate break-up film, but there’s a better one coming up on the list. Ultimate guy rom-com? I think I can settle for that. Funny that a movie that cracks my list would centre so heavily on list-making itself.
Cusack stars as Rob Gordon, the recently-dumped owner of a record store called Championship Vinyl. He spends his days debating the validity of list choices with co-workers Dick (Louiso) and Barry (Black). I relate to these people: the awkwardly opinionated record store clerks who live to create lists. For me, as you can probably tell, it’s movies. I even worked in a video store, where I spent much of my time making and breaking down lists with my friends on staff. The driving premise is the same: only by knowing what you like can you truly define yourself. It’s true for movies, it’s true for records, and as Rob is intent on proving, it’s damn true for women as well.
A while back, Dick, Barry and I decided that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like. Books, records, films, these things matter. Call me shallow, it’s the fucking truth. And by this measure I was having one of the best dates of my life.
The plot hinges on Rob’s Top Five Break-Ups of All-Time list. Abandoned by his live-in lover Laura (Hjejle), he walks through his past in an effort to prove she never meant that much to him anyway. It’s too late for that. “If you really wanted to mess me up, you should have got to me sooner!” It’s a lie, but in revisiting his top heartbreakers he starts to discover that they were never really the girls he thought they were all along.
I find myself writing about this movie every time I get dumped. It would have made the list regardless, but it certainly feels pertinent to me now. She was my Laura. Used to be. Now it’s back to being Sarah Marshall.
She didn’t make me miserable, or anxious, or ill at ease. You know, it sounds boring. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t spectacular either, it was just…good. But really good.
Part of the reason I enjoy the film so much is that I relate to it like it’s my story. It owes all of this to Nick Hornby. It’s been said that narration is just a function of lazy storytelling, but not here, not with Nick Hornby. Hornby writes the male inner-monologue so damn well that much of his writing is indispensable to the film. The movie transplants the novel from London to Chicago and loses nothing in the translation, not even the narration. It accomplishes this by having Cusack break the fourth wall as often as possible — staring straight into the camera and delivering exactly what he’s thinking.
Laura walks out on Rob, but at least she gives him reasons why. They’re reasons that could very well apply to me, but I wouldn’t know. I got dumped after the gold medal game, and have been treated to three months of silence since. I can’t even get my stuff back. I’ve tried. I shouldn’t be airing my dirty laundry like this — she wouldn’t appreciate it. I won’t get into the messy details, as I’d look spineless, and I’d also come out looking like a bad person, I guess. Which in a lot of ways, I probably am. But not to her.
I’m not Rob anymore. I was, once, the first time this happened. Bitter, sardonic and scheming up ways to get Laura back. Not this time. Before it happened, I wrestled with doing it myself. It’s easy to prep that way. It still sucks though. I don’t want this to sound like I’m angry, or that I hate her, because I’m not, and I don’t. Well, that’s a half-lie. I am a bit angry about being excommunicated. It’s well within my rights to feel led-on, lied to and slighted, but it’s not worth it. I’ve tried to be an adult about this, extending olive branch after olive branch, and got nothing in return. Such is life, I guess. I can only control myself, at some point she has to want to meet me halfway.
Maybe I’m naive to think I can still be friendly with ex’s, but the idea of someone out there who knows all of my secrets and hates my guts just makes me uncomfortable. That’s not the only reason. I do miss her as a person, too. A lot. Knowing her as long as I have has shaped me into the person I am today, and I do like who I am. So there’s that. It’s just tough to think of positives when she keeps burning through whatever good will I have left.
I can see now that I am doomed to die a long, slow, suffocating death. And I try to figure out why. Of course there’s envy, why isn’t my life like this? And sure I want their money and clothes and jobs and opinions, and I’d like to have advice for jet-lag, but that’s not it. … It’s something else. And then it dawns on me: Charlie’s awful. … Maybe she’s been like this all along. How did I manage to edit all this out? How had I made this girl the answer to all the world’s problems?
I wish I knew, brother. I wish I knew. Oh hey, remember when this was a movie review?
Only Cusack could play this role. Part of the reason why I enjoyed Hot Tub Time Machine so much is that he plays almost this exact same type of character: the down-trodden lovesick loser. It’s a bit of a stretch, seeing as he’s John Cusack, but he sells it well. He also has very unique vocal patterns, like Chris Walken or Nic Cage but not so over-the-top with it. The man knows how to write for his own voice. This is why Fidelity and Gross Point Blank are the two best movies he’s made as an adult (Say Anything… remains his best). It’s also Jack Black’s breakout film, and the movie uses him to his full potential. He’s obnoxious, he’s funny and he sings. He’s never been better.
The book, and by extension the film, understands a lot of things. Not just women (or men for that matter), but the intricate art of how to make a proper mix-tape. A dying art that is drowning in the age of the iPod. Tragic, really. It’s one of the perfect little details that elevates the movie from “good romantic comedy” to all-time greatness. Plus, the soundtrack. A movie about music needs to have a killer soundtrack, and this has one of the best.
It’s no great technical achievement, but it’s a sharp, funny and personal film with a solid cast and a strong script. A definite favourite.
EDIT: This was at one time an even more personal entry than it is now. Hard to believe, I know. That’s what happens you do shots of Jag all night and come home to write blog entries. I thought I should trim some of that back — not that it wasn’t honest, but it was too honest. I guess it still is, but in re-reading what I’d initially written I could only think “them’s fightin’ words”, and I don’t want trouble. I just want my stuff back. And my friend, too.