High FidelityReviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 08/23/00 00:33:27
When you read a great book that you know will soon be a film, a feeling of deep dread rises from somewhere around your bladder. The list of good books that have been made into better movies is one of the world's smallest lists, just beaten by the list of great Jewish basketballers, the list of great movies featuring Matthew Lillard and the list of lawyers who've won the Nobel Peace Prize. The odds of calamity seem greatly increased when you realise that the makers of the film have decided to Americanise the book to suit a larger audience. So there you sit, thinking Satan himself has turned to moviemaking and then along comes High Fidelity and ruins everything we've come to assume about the world. High Fidelity is that rarest of creature; a great movie based on a good book that survives a Trans-Atlantic location shift and leaves the audience smiling wide.Rob is a guy. Rob's girlfriend wishes he was a man. Rob owns a record store and spends his day with two other guys, nattering about music and poopooing anyone who dares not come up to their standard of knowledge on the topic. Rob's girlfriend... doesn't. Rob loses girlfriend. Rob feels sorry for himself and tries to figure out why it happened, how it happened, when it all went wrong and where he goes from here, by tracking down the great failed romances of his life and investigating why they all went wrong.
If there's a downside to High Fidelity, it's not the fault of the film. Nick Hornby's book is almost obsessively whinging from start to finish. It's 'woe is me' of the highest order, and a large chunk of it (about 75% of the book) consists of the main character thinking to himself. In taking this to film, Cusack has been lumped with a massive gamble - how to portray that inner-thought to an audience. There's really only two ways to bring inner-dialogue to screen - narration (which everyone does when they've run out of ideas) or have your character actually talk to the camera (which almost always leads to tears - notable example: Christian Slater in Kuffs. Notable exception: Ferris Bueller's Day Off).
Thankfully, the dialogue in High Fidelity is tight, the characters are realistic and the situations are everyday. Essentially this isn't the kind of movie where you're looking over someone's shoulder as they rip-roar through a life we'll never participate in; with High Fidelity you're basically empathising with the main character. He's talking to us, we're relating to moments in our own lives, and so the whole concept of talking to the camera actually works well.
Cusack is in fine form. He's turned self deprecation into an art form over the years and it takes you way back to his teenage years of One Crazy Summer, Say Anything and Better Off Dead to see him catching up with a slightly insane Lili Taylor, being seduced by the mysterious Lisa Bonet and being beaten to an emotional pulp by a hilariously (and exceptionally well) affected Catherine Zeta Jones. Sister Cusack is again in attendance (in Cusack's own words "Why wouldn't I put her in every movie I make? She's a ringer. You just know she's gonna hit it out of the park every time.") and cameos from the likes of Tim Robbins and Natasha Gregson Wagner just seem to come one after another. But the real star of the show is Jack Black. As Rob's over-talkative geeky record store employee, Black is hysterical from start to finish, culminating in one of the most drop-your-pants hilarious renditions of Let's Get It On you'll ever have the pleasure of seeing, s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-sugar.
Funny, tight, real and very enjoyable, the only question that remains is the most obvious one. What got chopped from the book? Well, essentially only one character took a major cut, and she was the one character in the book that never really fit the theme. The result? A damn funny romantic comedy that leaves Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan pretenders in the dust.If you enjoyed Say Anything, Grosse Point Blank or any number of other 'Cusack plays the forelorn romantic' flicks, then this is not only right up your alley, but is the perfect adult compliment to the earlier teen epics. Take a date. Don't take a date. Just go see the thing.
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