The beauty of Stephen Frears’ 2000 adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name is that we ALL know characters like Rob, Barry and Dick. Hell, some of us (raises hand) are like that ourselves.
Both the text and the big screen version are very much parables of modern life. Hesitant love in suburbia, a lack of communication leading to massive ructions, and realizing that some of the people around you are only there because you couldn’t find better so settled for less. The joke’s on you though, you’re also considered “less” by your friends too. Ain’t life just wonderful?
Ok, maybe that’s too dim a view of a movie that blends comedy, sadness, a little surrealism and Tim Robbins with a shitty ponytail. It also features a tremendously on-point performance from Jack Black, before he became reallllly annoying.
Let’s set the scene: We start by saying hello to Rob Gordon (John Cusack), a music store owner who is left picking through the rubble of yet another relationship. Rob, as something of a music aficionado (read: SNOB!), sits among his stacked Stax shelves and ponders just where it went wrong.
For a man so obsessed with music, he can’t help but compartmentalize every facet of his life into Top 5 Lists (a pre-cursor to the internet’s current obsession?). Naturally, Rob can’t help but piece together his Top 5 Most Painful Break-Ups from early fumblings to ‘proper’ and ‘mature’ arrangements.
And so, probably against any and all advice, he decides to find the women and girls that have bugged him and find out where it all went wrong. It’s My Name Is Earl for the broken-hearted.
High Fidelity is less about the Futility Of Man than the futility of man; a reverse, nihilistic Neil Armstrong if you will. While I can’t speak for women (and believe me, I won’t try!), most men labor under the idea that their romantic lives are forever tainted by ‘the one that got away’. A former lover, perhaps your first, the most passionate, the most infuriating… some of us can be found in bars regaling friends with tales like old fishermen: “You shoulda seen her, pal… I’m tellin’ ya!”
Rob’s colleagues, and de facto only friends, are Dick and Barry. The two of them were hired by Rob for three days a week “but just kept showing up every day.” Beneath the madcap antics of Barry (Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso) there is more than a hint of sadness underneath the surface. Why are three near middle-aged men huddling together for warmth like dying Neanderthals? Have they been bruised by the world or have they pushed themselves away from the herd on purpose?
High Fidelity’s ensemble cast allow for many different and polarizing characters to stake their claim. Iben Hjejle puts in an understated performance as Rob’s most recent break-up, Laura. Her weary cynicism when dealing with Rob, and the hurt she has suffered are plain to see. Catherine Zeta-Jones pops ups as Rob’s ‘one that got away’, while Tim Robbins’ turn as a peace-and-love, vegan, hippy type is turned up to the dial marked ‘Love To Hate’. And, of course, the soundtrack is enough to get any would-be music snob salivating.
If High Fidelity’s beauty lies within its realism and relatability then the ending, neither happy nor sad, up in the air and unsure, mirrors life itself. It’s all built on sand anyway, it depends how long your stilts are.