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Truly Great Movies – High Fidelity

March 26, 2010

“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music? “Rob Gordon (John Cusack) in High Fidelity

High Fidelity’s protagonist, Rob Gordon, is hard to love.  Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate.  He’s easy to love, but tough to live with.  Rob’s first passion will always be music.  His second passion is doing as little work as humanly possible in pursuit of passion #1.  He’s not the ideal boyfriend.

High Fidelity, based on the 1995 novel by British author Nick Hornby, transplants the story to Chicago of 2000, where Rob owns his own record store, Championship Vinyl.  He is obsessed with organizing his vast and comprehensive record collection.  In college or high school, you probably knew someone like Rob – a loner at heart who is constantly creating the soundtrack to his own life in his head.  Rob’s soundtrack is based on his heartbreaks, which are mostly of his own creation.  His journey to find this out is the main plot of the film.

Rob and Barry tormenting their hapless customers

Co-written in part by Cusack and Steve Pink, who also collaborated together on Grosse Pointe BlankHigh Fidelity is directed by Brit mastermind Stephen Frears.  Frears is perhaps best known in the U.S. for his adaptation of Dangerous Liasions.  The two movies actually have more in common than you might think.   In both films characters laze about doing as little real work as possible, having too much time on their hands that they spend meddling in the machinations of self-created dramas. 

Rob Gordon’s record collection lives in an apartment above his store.  Rob occupies the apartment, too, but he doesn’t really “live” there.  He’s pretty self-involved within his own imagination.  Rob often talks to the audience in intelligent, quippy monologues, usually involving his infamous pasttime of making “Top Five” lists.  For example:  “Top Five Jobs” he’d like to have if money were no object and he could time travel.  The list on his mind for the majority of the film, however, is his top five list of all-time breakups. 

His girlfriend, the hip but upwardly mobile lawyer Laura (Iben Hejilje), has finally grown tired of Rob’s cheating, lazy ways and removed herself from the apartment and effectively, Rob’s world.  This sets off  his search for “what does it all mean”.  Along the way he meets the other four heartbreakers in his top five list, played by, among others,Catherine Zeta Jones and Lili Taylor (Cusack’s co-star from another Truly Great Movie – Say Anything).

Rob and Laura in happier times

The journey is the thing in High Fidelity, which has quite a lot of truthful and honest things to say about human relationships and our own selfishness.

Along for the comedic ride are Rob’s two sidekicks and co-workers, Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso).  This was before Jack Black was overexposed and in this film he is genuinely funny.  His wisdom regarding Cosby sweaters and the value of Katrina and the Waves are not to be missed.

What makes High Fidelity a “Truly Great Movie” is that it captures that rare combination of comedy and drama that realistically makes the world go around.    The performances are right on key, and the writing and direction are in perfect harmony.  Rob’s world may not be ideal, but it’s actually enviable in a lot of ways.  How many of us can say we’ve found a career that encompasses our true passion?  Rob’s ahead of the game on a lot of fronts, even if he has a lot of growing up to do in the beginning of the film.

In the end, High Fidelity is like your favorite mix tape from high school and college.  It has something for every occasion and mood.  As Rob would say,

 “Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.”

It is indeed.  And High Fidelity has mastered it well.

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