“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?”
Stephen Frear’s High Fidelity breaks the fourth wall from the very opening scene as Rob Gordon (John Cusack) begins sharing with us about his top 5 breakups right at the time his girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle), is moving out of his apartment and leaving him. It is evident he is hurt, but he brushes it off by saying she doesn’t even rank in his list of the most hurtful breakups. That is when he begins listing who each one of them were while we get flashbacks of those memories intertwined with the present in which we are introduced to his job, friends, and his passion for music. Rob is a vintage record store owner and his two employees, Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black), are as much music snobs as he is, and they too enjoy making lists of their favorite things usually involving music. The more we get to know Rob, we realize that he isn’t the typical romantic character we’d find in a film like this. He is deeply flawed, he has cheated on his girlfriend, he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere with his life, and he is afraid of commitment. Somehow he always believes to be the victim in the break-ups, but from what he says we know that he has never been boyfriend of the year material. It is hard to root for a character like Rob, but John Cusack delivers such a charismatic and engaging performance that we accept his flaws and want him to get over the heartbreak. Along the way he realizes that Laura really belongs on the list and decides to revisit some of his past flames to discover what he has been doing wrong.
Frears has directed some great films (The Queen, Philomena), along with not so good ones that feel like direct to TV movies, but High Fidelity belongs in his top list of best films. It is a romantic comedy that has an entertaining script, some great performances, and of course a wonderful soundtrack. The screenplay was adapted from Nick Horny’s book but instead of setting the story in London they bring it to Chicago and it absolutely works. Jack Black and Todd Louiso give strong supporting performances and you believe they actually are these snobs who are living music encyclopedias. They complement Cusack’s performance and deliver most of the comedic moments. As for John Cusack I believe this is one of his best performances although I still need to see a couple more of his films to solidify that claim. The romance in High Fidelity is also incredibly believable and relatable which is hard to come across by in most rom-coms. Neither Cusack nor Hjejle are portrayed as these perfect role models in a relationship, they are both flawed characters who have made some poor decisions.
Even though my music knowledge is very limited, I was able to relate to these characters because of their shared passion. I may not have that same passion for music, but I do for movies or sports so I understood where these characters were coming from and believed the culture this film created surrounding music. The screenwriters knew what they were writing about and each one of the actors delivered, and that is what has made High Fidelity such a cult favorite for many teens. It manages to be smart and funny at the same time. It is also one of the best examples of a film successfully being able to break the fourth wall and including the audience in the genius of the movie and its charm.