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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 27.27%
Average: 8.08%
Pretty Bad: 8.59%
Total Crap: 1.01%

15 reviews, 108 user ratings

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High Fidelity
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by Andrew Howe

"Like it was written in my soul"
4 stars

In 1995 Nick Hornby’s first novel, High Fidelity, was released to significant critical and popular acclaim. It’s a simple tale about the day after the day you realise that the years are passing you by, the need to put away childish things colliding with the fear of losing the spark and vitality of youth. Narrated by its protagonist, Rob, the novel is enlivened by Hornby’s eminently readable prose and his penchant for romanticising the mundane, washed down with lashings of razor-sharp humour (much of it stemming from Rob’s need to reduce every aspect of his life to an easily-digestible list, from favourite songs to most painful break-up’s) and a soundtrack to die for.

Progress reports on the celluloid adaptation initially filled me with dread, for one of the creative team’s first acts was to transport the novel’s location from London to Chicago. My concern stemmed from the fact that Hornby’s tale is a very British work, filled to the brim with local references, slang and a healthy dose of that gloriously depressing British worldview. My fear was that, in exchanging a pint of bitters down the local pub for a gin and tonic at the neighbourhood bar, the tale would lose much of its charm.

Putting aside the issue of Hollywood’s less-than-salutary habit of appropriating fine British works and “Americanising” them, I am pleased to report that the novel’s line in universal truths ensures it survives the transition intact, and the result is a film which doles out equal measures of charm, wit and quiet desperation. It’s an unusual mix, but it invites us to look at our lives with a knowing smile, our disappointments leavened with the knowledge that the coin of heartbreak and loss is accepted the world over.

If you don’t see yourself in Rob, it’s an odds-on bet that you know someone like him. He’s an average guy – sometimes he gets lucky, sometimes not. When the film opens he’s been freshly dumped by his live-in girlfriend, but you get the impression that it didn’t come as a surprise. Like most of us, Rob isn’t particularly satisfied with his life – he runs an independent record store, but the fact that he’s involved with something he loves is countered by his perceived failure to “make something” of his life. The film chronicles his efforts to come to terms with his inability to hold down a relationship, while fending off the daily disappointments which dog us all.

The choice of John Cusack to tackle the lead role initially seemed ill-advised. One of the lynchpins of the novel is the notion that Rob is second cousin to Joe Average – he attracts his share of women, but he’s no Don Juan. However, anybody who witnessed Cusack’s performance in Grosse Point Blank will know that he’s not exactly lacking in charisma, and moreover his features could never be described as plain. Cusack sidesteps this potential pitfall by dressing down for the role, retaining the charm which is an integral part of Rob’s character while making it easy to believe that he would have just as much trouble attracting the opposite sex as the next man. Cusack’s likeable performance ensures we forgive Rob his insecurities and occasional lapses in judgement, for we know that, at his core, he is a basically good man whose flaws simply make him human. This encourages us to become invested in his fate, and makes it impossible to walk away from the film entirely unmoved. There are few actors working today who could have tackled this role with such aplomb, and it proves once again that Cusack’s long period in the wilderness (1991 – 96) was a great loss indeed.

One of the difficulties inherent in adapting the novel is that it is written from a first-person perspective, leaving the scriptwriters to devise a method of communicating the narrator’s internal musings to the audience. The obvious solution would have been to utilise voiceovers, but they have taken this a step further by allowing Rob to address the camera directly. Breaking the fourth wall is an uncommon tactic, since it makes it clear to the viewer that what they are watching is, after all, only a movie, and thereby inhibits the immersion which most films strive to achieve. However, in this instance it works like a charm, because Cusack’s note-perfect delivery makes us feel like we’re having a conversation with an old friend. Voiceovers would have made for a succession of inert scenes, as opposed to the attention-grabbing theatrics which propel the film forward and invite us to become part of the action.

Unfortunately, Cusack’s dominance is so complete that the supporting cast fades into the background for the majority of the film. Jack Black attempts to place himself on the map by running a few shticks which, despite being a tad contrived and out of place with the general tone of the proceedings, provide a welcome diversion from Rob’s long dark night of the soul. Iben Hjejle turns her talents to the role of Rob’s most recent love interest, and despite her limited screen time she does a fine job of portraying a woman whose lingering affection for her ex-lover is at odds with the need to get on with her life. Everyone else, from Joan Cusack to Catherine Zeta-Jones to Tim Robbins, is reduced to cameo status (though Zeta-Jones is particularly memorable, playing the kind of pretentious fool each of us has known and loathed at some stage of our lives), but this is simply the cost of remaining true to the novel (the first-person perspective made their brief page-count less noticeable).

The film boasts a fine line in wry humour, but there’s only a handful of scenes which will have the average audience rolling in the aisles (there is, however, an episode of vengeful visualisation occasioned by Rob’s meeting with his nemesis which is worth the price of admission alone, and a cameo by a major rock star which is exceedingly cool). This is understandable, since the script’s status as a slightly-twisted slice-of-life precludes the adoption of a laugh-a-minute approach, and moreover much of the humour hinges upon the viewer’s ability to identify with the situation. It certainly doesn’t detract from the film’s merits, but it does make the marketers’ desire to sell it as a comedy somewhat misleading.

If the film has a weakness, it’s that nothing of earth-shattering importance occurs for the duration. Anyone expecting a rousing, eventful narrative would be well-advised to look elsewhere, for the script does nothing more than chart a difficult period in the life of an ordinary citizen of the world. However, this is also the film’s greatest strength, for it takes situations familiar to anyone who has ever been in more than one relationship and elevates them to an almost-mythic status. The revelation that an ex-lover is seeing someone else (complete with fantasies of sexual shenanigans which blow away anything you were ever capable of), the one-night stand between two adults who know better than to try and take it any further, the friends who appear incapable of compassion and the ones who come through when you need them the most – it may cut a little close to the bone at times, but anything which can make us laugh at the folly of modern-day relationships is a welcome relief from the daily grind.

And overlaying it all, there’s the insistent call of the music. To say that rock has been the soundtrack for every generation since the 1960’s is a cliché, but as one whose love of music is only marginally less than that of the film’s central character I would suggest that it’s no less than the truth (and yes, I did once toy with the idea of filing my CD’s in the order in which I purchased them, but the straitjacket made it impossible to get them out of the racks). The film has a great soundtrack, ranging from The Velvet Underground to Katrina & The Waves, with my only qualm being that the tunes don’t always enhance the on-screen action as much as you might expect (see Rushmore for an example of what I’m talking about). However, anyone who has ever found themselves listening to Leonard Cohen or The Smiths at 3.00 a.m. will know full well the role of music as a mood-enhancing drug (not to mention a cue for memories both good and ill), and the film may just get you to wondering about which songs comprise the soundtrack to your life.

High Fidelity may be a “little” film, but a combination of accessible characters, memorable scenes, gentle humour and a vintage performance in the lead role ensure it sings far above its range. Packed with insight and honest emotion, it’s the cinematic equivalent of Elton John’s Sad Songs, reminding the broken-hearted people that they are never alone in their suffering. And like the man says – “when every single word makes sense, then it’s easier to have those songs around”.

Or, as noted rock critic Charles Shaar Murray so succinctly puts it: “Listen”.

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originally posted: 11/29/00 13:43:27
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User Comments

5/17/07 ES meh 2 stars
8/24/06 Joe One of my faves. Cusack's at the top of his game. Black and Luiso steal scene after scene. 5 stars
6/24/06 Orange Genius! 5 stars
12/12/05 Bad Critic The greatest movie about recoreds ever! (Ghost World's one too) They also had a Saab in it! 5 stars
10/13/05 millersxing It clearly helps that Cusack is such a blank slate that so many can identify w/ him. 4 stars
8/18/05 John Aster Habig Cusak can't live up to Todd Louiso's and Black's characters in interest 4 stars
8/17/05 ES A movie not worth making= funny stuff spoiled by trailer, nothing left for the film 2 stars
8/12/05 Kelly top five john cusack movie- 1.High Fidelity 2.Grosse Point Blank.... 5 stars
12/07/04 Jason Kaul One of my favs from John Cusack. Jack Black is great too. Then again, I'm a DJ, so I relate 4 stars
8/27/04 Mike Stanbridge Second best cuzack film ever 5 stars
8/22/04 Abbath Great characters and narrative. Something most anyone can relate to. 5 stars
7/27/04 DM Unstructured but mostly fucking hilarious 4 stars
7/08/04 Denise Duspiva Rob is a low life who needs to get a life 3 stars
5/13/04  Shaun Rose Great movie with a nice cast of actors, Check it out if you haven't seen it 4 stars
5/11/04 Denise Duspiva Need a more solid story 3 stars
5/09/04 Charlene Javier Bored, bored, bored! 2 stars
1/07/04 Charles Tatum Nicely acted and written, but runs ten minutes too long 4 stars
1/05/04 y2mckay Cusack, keep making movies like this and "Gross Point Blank". No more chick flicks! 5 stars
10/12/03 laura paterson Probably my favourite film of all time! 5 stars
9/21/03 spacecowboy for such a simple message, it didn't have to be that long 3 stars
4/07/03 Jack Sommersby Been down this road before, people -- even without the LPs! 2 stars
1/21/03 R.W. Welch Nice work by Cusack but unless you're a pop music geek much of the dialogue is obscure. 3 stars
12/22/02 Pigwidgeon Excellent movie with two flaws -- "Laura" and too much showy smoking. 5 stars
10/27/02 MarktheShark6 The diversity of characters was what made this movie great. I don't know about the end. 4 stars
10/03/02 Jason Cusack Shoots, HE SCORES, AGAIN!!!!!!! 5 stars
8/26/02 WestcoastPunk Non-stop Laughs. Funniest movie out there. 5 stars
8/14/02 MI I found it depressing- I think i may have laughed once. 2 stars
7/29/02 karen goldstein Anybody who has ever been dumped will enjoy this movie! Very entertaining. 4 stars
7/01/02 visionsof People who call this movie stupid need to learn to appreciate movies without a loud of cgi. 5 stars
5/26/02 Nicole If you like fairly dry humor, you will enjoy this movie 4 stars
4/28/02 radroc This movie is genuine, the real thing. A flick the acadamy awards could never appreciate 5 stars
4/04/02 cat John Cusack always plays the adorable loser to a T, Jack Black is hilarious, even Dick too 5 stars
4/03/02 Butterbean If you like butt plugs, you'll love this movie. Otherwise, see Chasing Amy 4 a better flick 2 stars
2/27/02 Jess I quite liked the film, it's real, but the book means so much more. 4 stars
2/20/02 Xaver I just didn't find the movie very entertaining. Black made me chuckle. 2 stars
11/29/01 KMG People claim this movie is brilliant...THOSE PEOPLE ARE STUPID! 3 stars
9/03/01 svetlana the most human movie i've seen in a long long time 5 stars
8/29/01 Sarah John Cusack is animous with starring in movies that have no meaning & bored me to death 1 stars
7/06/01 Elvisfan Almost ruined by Black's immature jackoff routine, w/o him it would have been better 3 stars
5/21/01 hum see what can be done when a liitle effort is put into a comedy? 4 stars
5/04/01 joe This is Jack Black's movie. Cusack is annoying. Enough already! 4 stars
4/29/01 The Jedi Droid in my top 5 ....John Cusack is great! Jack Black cracked me up 5 stars
3/04/01 Zippo XxX One of the best movies i've seen!! should be studied!!! 5 stars
2/24/01 Marie Pretty boring whiny confused male movie. Generally entertaining. 3 stars
2/17/01 Jake a timeless gem. 5 stars
2/15/01 Charlie Betts Great Pop Classic... One For the Ages! 5 stars
2/06/01 Phil M. Afficianado <10% are "see againers"; this is. Gender Psych 401--grad school. CATscan of male love life. 5 stars
2/04/01 Del R Boorriinnngg! 2 stars
1/15/01 Gariess Best romantic comedy from an original novel. A tad on the glib side. 4 stars
11/27/00 Michael Maher intelligent approach to relationships, great use of pop music context and very funny 5 stars
10/17/00 Leon Trotsky Fantastic, BUT the end wasn't as carefully assembled as the rest 4 stars
10/05/00 Add Straight into my all time top 5 with a bullet, p.s. SONIC DEATH MONKEY RULE!!!!!! 5 stars
10/02/00 toneely Sorry Guys .but this movie bored me to death!!!! 2 stars
9/22/00 Monday Morning Easily among the Top 5 films I've seen this year. 4 stars
9/20/00 Michael Grimm rains a lot in Chicago, really hit home in my relationships, Cusack's character was creepy 4 stars
9/13/00 lina oh my my... brilliant film...john cusack rocks.. didnt want the film to end...totally rad . 5 stars
9/05/00 The Extreaminizer I love the book and the movie 5 stars
9/01/00 Pierce Lanson Terrific film, but he smoked too much 5 stars
8/21/00 Belinda Jack Black, where have you been hiding? 4 stars
8/18/00 matthew smith hilarious and painful 5 stars
7/31/00 Matthew Bartley A bit too long but very funny in parts 4 stars
7/31/00 Jason Kallelis Saw it a 2nd time, liked it even more, AWESOME MOVIE!! 5 stars
7/04/00 Matt Catherine Zeta-Jones in a GOOD movie??? 5 stars
6/13/00 chouck Another killer John Cusack film 5 stars
6/08/00 Jaime N. Christley Best Cusack film in years; funny, insightful, and highly enjoyable 5 stars
6/07/00 Patrick Dennis John Cusack is the man!!!!!!!! Plus, the diologue in the store is great... 5 stars
6/05/00 Blubberbot I enjoyed it for the most part but I didn't think the story was all that great. 4 stars
5/21/00 Jess This is an 80's film in the 00's. I loved it. Beautiful film, very funny at times. 5 stars
5/13/00 davebo an insightful, funny, original movie 5 stars
5/13/00 Dr. Rev. Krule, MD that is so me in 10 years 5 stars
5/12/00 Paige OK movie, nothing to write home about. 3 stars
5/10/00 Travis funny lines, good characters 4 stars
5/09/00 That Guy For everyone who ever made a tape for someone to express themselves... 5 stars
5/05/00 Alan Stuart Smart screenplay and good performances 4 stars
5/05/00 David Blumgart Funny, charming, affecting movie. 5 stars
5/03/00 Joe Smith Great characters 5 stars
5/03/00 Peter Smith Very funny, verry entertaining 5 stars
5/02/00 mop Great movie. Always been in love with Cusack. And they pretty much nailed music snobs... 5 stars
4/29/00 Heather Very funny original movie, interesting characters, well worth looking up 4 stars
4/26/00 astrotart Indiecool film where John Cusack is actually attractive..and Jack Black is a fucking RIOT!! 5 stars
4/26/00 PhilmPhreak Great Flick! 5 stars
4/21/00 Malbert Very interesting film...I liked it a lot 5 stars
4/19/00 Starry Knight Damn Damn Good 4 stars
4/15/00 PJ Great movie, Jack Black is funny as hell, and it was rather original, funny 4 stars
4/14/00 Mr. X enjoyable and insightful. if you haven't read the book, that is. 4 stars
4/14/00 Alyssa Another Cusack triumph. Makes you ponder if guys who *are* assholes are really pensive. 5 stars
4/11/00 Drano Actually went deeper than I expected. And stayed humorous 4 stars
4/10/00 Bueller Amazingly clever, and comic dialog. No one is better than John Cusak, at this kind of film. 5 stars
4/09/00 EMagGaRony john cusak is awesome, as always.... 5 stars
4/09/00 vroom The '80s came rushing back...where's my crimper 4 stars
4/08/00 burdenit Fucking Shit! 1 stars
4/08/00 Chartsy God, I love seeing a movie that kicks serious ass! 5 stars
4/07/00 Nolan Wrage Good insight on how men realy think. 5 stars
4/07/00 Katsat Original, quirky, funny, charming--just my kind of movie 5 stars
4/07/00 burton t. e. miller slow and predictable - supporting cast 'carried' the movie 2 stars
4/07/00 nootch The movie was pretty good, but without Cusack I don't think it could've survived. 4 stars
4/06/00 Freyja Forget chick flicks, this is THE date movie! 5 stars
4/06/00 kohawk true to life, spontaneous comedy. Extremely well written. Certainly better than average 5 stars
4/05/00 Captain Highcrime Not THAT funny. 3 stars
4/04/00 ChuckEye Tim Robbins gone horribly wrong 4 stars
4/03/00 Negative Again, Cusack delivers ! 5 stars
4/03/00 Gamma Great movie. See it for no other reason than a great John Cusack role. 5 stars
4/02/00 "Persnickety" well done john, he let the true world of dating come out to the surface, Bravo! 5 stars
4/02/00 mike b not too bad..could've used some trimming-jack black is the man! 4 stars
4/02/00 mason great book , slow directionless film full of very ugly people 2 stars
4/01/00 tjwills John Cusack is a god! This movie is just more proof! 5 stars
4/01/00 The Rock Movie was great! Jack Black rules 5 stars
3/31/00 Andi C. It was funny!! 3 stars
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  17-Aug-2000 (M)

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