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STUDIO Touchstone Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME 114 minutes
• Ten short featurettes
• Deleted scenes
A comedy for pop culture nerds who don’t understand women.
John Cusack, Stephen Frears, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black, Todd Louiso, Lisa Bonet
Nick Hornby’s distinctly British novel is adapted for American audiences by transplanting the story to Chicago. Rob Gordon, a record store owner, has just been dumped by his long-time girlfriend, Laura. In his misery, Rob decides to revisit his past girlfriends to find out why he keeps getting dumped.
Admittedly, I have a soft spot for High Fidelity. It’s a story for and about angry young men that devote their lives to pop culture. While I don’t think Nick Hornby’s London-based novel fully translates to the screen in this American adaptation, the film has some great laughs and a very solid cast.
There’s an absurd ennui that permeates High Fidelity, and that ennui is one of the sources of the film’s humor. Guys like Rob (John Cusack) and his record store cronies are the curmudgeonly, opinionated, living encyclopedias of pop culture. They are burdened with being too cool. Being a musician and a film writer myself, I can… identify with this.
Rob is insecure, self-destructive, prone to outbursts, and spends way too much time in his own head. In the film’s first line of dialogue, Rob confides in us that he’s miserable, and he doesn’t really know why. After all, he’s just been dumped. The trouble with Rob is that he’s miserable even if he has a girlfriend. The film gives us the impression that Rob is a serial monogamist, jumping from relationship to relationship, only contextualizing himself with a woman. While Rob might be an asshole, at least he knows it. Over the next hour, we get to see Rob find one of the sources of his misery: he just doesn’t understand women. Rob soon realizes that the only common factor in his string of nasty breakups is himself.
Stephen Frears’ direction seems quite muted here. From a purely visual standpoint, High Fidelity is not his best. The lighting is a little too warm and diffuse for my taste, which makes things look inviting, but not real. Then again, what we’re being shown is a story that takes place somewhere between Rob’s head and the real world, so realism isn’t a necessity. There’s a bit too much brooding outside at night in the pouring rain. But like I said, High Fidelity is loaded with Rob’s absurd ennui.
What makes High Fidelity truly memorable are its performances. Cusack takes an asshole and turns him into a guy you want to spend time with. Despite all his brooding and cigarette smoking, we can feel that Rob has good in him. Good ol’ Cusack got a Golden Globe nomination for this one, and I think he deserved it. Rob’s record store cronies, Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso) make a fantastic comedy duo. Black is in full-on Tenacious D mode while Louiso plays a perfect milquetoast nerd.
The film’s cast of women is also pretty damn good. Iben Hjejle’s performance is complex, yet warm. Lisa Bonet brings a smoky, alluring energy to her role. Catherine Zeta-Jones seems to be having fun playing mean-queen Charlie. Joan Cusack shows up in barely more than a cameo as Rob’s sister, but she definitely leaves her mark.
Our main trio of men have some extremely funny moments, both verbally and physically. The scene where Ray (Tim Robbins) walks into the record store to confront Rob is a highlight, especially when Rob fantasizes that Dick might knock Ray’s teeth out with a phone and smash his head in with an air conditioner.
High Fidelity is the kind of film that has no people, only characters. The story doesn’t treat its characters like people, nor do these characters behave like people. This is particularly apparent with Rob’s ex-girlfriends, who only really exist as manifestations of Rob’s flaws. It’s not like the film isn’t aware of it, however. During one of Rob’s visits to his exes, he passes up the opportunity to get laid, because “you wouldn’t be sleeping with a person, you’d be sleeping with the whole sad, single-person culture”. Rob’s exes are merely ghosts of relationships past.
Laura (Iben Hjejle) is more fleshed out than these other women, but not by much. As the audience, we can understand why she would break up with Rob. We can understand why she might sleep with a guy like Ian Raymond. Something we don’t get to see is how Laura exists outside of the context of Rob. Nearly every conversation she has with anyone is about Rob, and it might have helped to see her develop a sense of independence.
High Fidelity doesn’t just break the fourth wall, it demolishes it permanently. Nearly the entire film is some variation on a man speaking directly to the camera– directly to the viewer. It almost makes me feel like I’m watching a play about Rob’s memories. While that might be an interesting concept, there are a few things about this style that just don’t work.
For instance, most of this on-screen narration happens while Rob is doing something, like riding the train to work or organizing his records, but occasionally the story screeches to a halt while Rob does something like stand on a bridge and just talk to us for a few minutes. What context do these scenes have in the rest of the narrative? It’s like they take place in a vacuum. Despite the logistical issues with this style, it ultimately brings us closer to Rob. It makes us feel like Rob’s invisible friend. And that, I think, was the point.
If you really want a sense of what High Fidelity was supposed to be, read Nick Hornby’s novel. It’s a great read. The film doesn’t effectively translate Hornby’s original intentions, and its women are thinly portrayed, but it manages to be funny and charming enough to make a strong impression.
This is a shamelessly lazy double-dip. The picture quality, while certainly sharper than the DVD, is soft and hazy, with some occasional dirt. For some reason, skies are exceptionally noisy and grainy. This film deserves a new transfer, and obviously didn’t get one. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio track is ok. Dialogue is a little soft and I would’ve liked some additional ambience in the rear channels, but the music sounds great.
I desperately wanted a commentary by Frears and/or Cusack for this one, but no luck. The ten short featurettes on the disc are the same ones from the DVD release, and they didn’t even bother to pillarbox them to fit the disc’s widescreen format. This means all the featurettes appear horizontally stretched unless you know how to fiddle with your TV’s zoom mode. The deleted scenes are interesting, as they contain some cool cameos by Harold Ramis and Beverly D’Angelo. If you already own the DVD, this lazy Blu-Ray update won’t really offer you anything new, but the film looks and sounds a bit better.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars