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My review of High Fidelity

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Shagrrotten
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My review of High Fidelity

#1

Post by Shagrrotten » January 29th, 2019, 11:17 pm

High Fidelity is one of my very favorite movies, but it didn’t start out that way. As a 17 year old leaving the theater, I loved Jack Black’s over the top blowhard sidekick, Barry, but honestly John Cusack’s lead character, and his journey through revisiting the loves of his life and how the relationships failed, just kind of left me wanting more. I thought the movie was good, but not great. Self-reflection and development didn’t mean a whole lot to a 17 year old, who woulda thunk it, right? As I revisited the movie over the years, though, as all great art does, it grew inside my mind and heart. I cared more, I understood more, I connected more. By the time I was in my late 20’s, with some life under my belt, it became a very personal favorite movie of mine.

We are plopped right into the action as Rob (Cusack) is in the middle of a breakup with his girlfriend Laura (Danish actress Iben Hjejle being perfectly American). To try and get under Laura’s skin, Rob shouts at her that she’s not even one of the top 5 real loves of his life, she didn’t mean that much to him. She couldn’t really hurt him because she wasn’t one of these special top 5 that had his heart. They were the ones that really hurt, not her. We soon learn that Rob is just lashing out in anger, but we maybe learn it faster than Rob does as he counts down the top 5, because things keep coming back to Laura.

Rob recounts these stories directly to us in a tricky little bit of filmmaking where he breaks the fourth wall and talks to us directly the way Rob does in the book, the way that filmmakers rarely do in the movies, and even more rarely do well. This is about as good as it’s ever been done. We go inside Rob’s head, inside his thoughts and emotions and self-doubt and narcissism. We even see his fantasy of revisiting the top 5 girls, talking to them in person, and it feeling like a Bruce Springsteen song, complete with a Springsteen cameo talking to Rob as Rob talks to us. And when Rob eventually has his emotional breakdown and begins truly learning his role in his own life, his part in all the failed relationships, he has those moments *to* us, directly to camera.

Written by the team of John Cusack (who also produced in addition to starring), Steve Pink, Scott Rosenberg, and D.V. DeVincentis, the script is tremendous. Usually four listed writers on a movie is a bad sign, that you’re going to get something scattershot and without a clear vision because it’s gone through too many writers hands and isn’t going to congeal into a true whole. Not here. Tasked with adapting Nick Hornby’s brilliant 1995 book of the same name, moving the action from Hornby’s London to Cusack’s home town of Chicago, the writers created a story with meaning, heart, humor, and emotion. Creating people sharply drawn in their desires and their faults.

And behind the director’s chair is the steady hand of Stephen Frears, twice Oscar nominated as Best Director (for the Helen Mirren starring The Queen as well as 1990’s The Grifters, a brilliant little neo-noir also starring Cusack), he wasn’t even nominated for his most iconic movie, the 1988 adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons. Here I have to assume that some of that elusive cohesion of the story has to have come from Frears. This movies tone is pitched at absolutely the perfect note. Not just any filmmaker could’ve gotten it so right and seemed so effortless.

We follow Rob not just through his past relationships (the most memorable with Catherine Zeta-Jones’s Charlie), but also through Laura’s fling with a neighbor (Tim Robbins), Laura’s friend Liz (Joan Cusack) and her job as the go between for Rob and Laura during the breakup, and Rob’s day to day life as the owner of a record store alongside his employees Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black). We also meet a sexy local singer/songwriter the guys all have a crush on, played perfectly by Lisa Bonet. The guys obsessively make top 5 lists, such as Top 5 opening tracks on an album, Top 5 songs about death, and sometimes super specific but abstract lists like Top 5 songs to play on a Monday morning. These scenes are what Jack Black owes his career to, as he is electric and steals every scene he’s in. It was obvious what a talent he was immediately upon seeing this movie.

I loved this aspect of the movie most upon initial viewing, because I was a list obsessed teenager myself. These guys were in their 30’s, but I still saw myself (which shows you how much room they have to grow). Things changed for me later just as they do for Rob. I experienced more, I developed and grew as a person just as Rob grows over the course of the movie. In the beginning Rob is so obsessed with music, songs, albums, and making lists that he ignores the important things in his life, like his relationships and how he is the one sabotaging himself more than he is a victim of the behavior of others. He even says that he, Dick, and Barry have talked about how the most important thing about a girl is what she likes, not what she is like. But eventually he even starts trying to figure some things out, like what he wants to do with the rest of his life, and who he wants to be as a person. The kind of things that we all need to figure out.

For as good as the writing is, and the supporting cast is, this is the only movie that has really, truly captured what John Cusack can do as an actor. He’s been the jaded cool guy, the rom-com lead, the detective or cop, the comedic leading man, and much more, but in High Fidelity he got the best role of his career and he embodied it more than ever with the vulnerability, intelligence, and humor that has always been there but never coalesced into such a tremendous performance. Rob Gordon has become a milestone character for me as a moviegoer. Maybe the character I most resemble and relate to.

Rob is the best rom-com lead character (because at its core this is really a rom-com for guys), he takes us more intimately into his brain and his being than almost any other character has. We *know* Rob by the end of the movie. And if you can go on the journey with him and not be turned off by some of his early (more self-obsessed or arrogant) behavior, we love Rob by the end. Watching him grow out of his state of arrested adolescence is cathartic, hilarious, and heartwarming. It’s the best work from one of our most underappreciated actors, and even if many people know of the movie, more people should see it. And expect it to grow in your mind the way it did mine.

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Carmel1379
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#2

Post by Carmel1379 » January 30th, 2019, 2:10 am

I've only skimmed through your review, but from being completely off my radar, the film's now in my watchlist. Not that I'm a big rom-com fan, but it sounds like one of the more noteworthy ones.

Anyway, hopefully you'll stick around here, Sharrotten, you were one of the good FGers. ;)
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whom shall we find
Sufficient? who shall tempt with wand’ring feet
The dark unbottom’d infinite Abyss,
And through the palpable obscure find out
His uncouth way, or spread his aerie flight,
Upborn with indefatigable wings,
Over the vast abrupt, ere he arrive
The happy Ile?

Nur dein Auge – ungeheuer / Blickt michs an, Unendlichkeit!
Close the world. ʇxǝu ǝɥʇ uǝdO.
t o B e c o n t i n u e d

Shagrrotten
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#3

Post by Shagrrotten » January 30th, 2019, 2:14 am

I hope you do check it out, it’s really a subtly perfect romance for modern times, maybe more relevant by the year as it seems young people are more and more stuck in a state of arrested development. This movie initially embraces but eventually calls out its main characters behavior and forces him to grow up. Really that’s something that will always be relevant.

And thank you for the kind words. It’s kinda weird to have people remember me from the old boards. I’m not sure about this one, I find the layout to be difficult to navigate, but I’m giving it a try.

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Carmel1379
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#4

Post by Carmel1379 » January 30th, 2019, 11:45 am

I will (and report back when I eventually do). Though when you said "young" people I assumed the protagonist was in his late teens / early twenties; then I check the plot synopsis which says he's actually in his "thirty-somethings". :pinch:

Oh don't worry, I think everyone formerly on FG or CFB who became a regular here can back me up in saying they also got used to this forum's design. From lurking around I know you're quite active on FG-reddit, in comparison it's (unfortunately) a bit less bustling here (while being mostly challenges & lists focused), with no thread-format for replying to individual users, but the place has got its own pleasant dynamic.
IMDb, letterboxd, tumblr
Image
whom shall we find
Sufficient? who shall tempt with wand’ring feet
The dark unbottom’d infinite Abyss,
And through the palpable obscure find out
His uncouth way, or spread his aerie flight,
Upborn with indefatigable wings,
Over the vast abrupt, ere he arrive
The happy Ile?

Nur dein Auge – ungeheuer / Blickt michs an, Unendlichkeit!
Close the world. ʇxǝu ǝɥʇ uǝdO.
t o B e c o n t i n u e d

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OldAle1
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#5

Post by OldAle1 » January 30th, 2019, 2:46 pm

Thanks for posting that and the memories Shag. I don't really remember it all that well myself, but I do remember it better than a lot of better (and worse) films that I haven't seen in 20+ years, likely because of the connections with my own life - living in Chicago at the time, knowing the neighborhoods, having met both Joan and John a couple of times, and having a lot of friends who were obsessive list makers* and having a pretty poor record in my love-life. And Springsteen obviously. It's exactly the kind of movie I SHOULD have loved but really didn't, maybe because it was too close, or maybe because I was too much the arthouse snob at the time. Honestly it sort of runs together with Say Anything in my mind these days - I should probably re-watch them both as a double feature for V-Day or at least sometime this coming month.

And Big Night of course. Someday.

* by our standards at the time - nothing compared to people on this forum or perhaps people in general in the Internet era.

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#6

Post by Onderhond » January 30th, 2019, 3:06 pm

Not a film I liked very much, though I have to admit that I don't remember much about it. Except for the club scenes, which were totally laughable (as club scenes in films usually are, but worse because this is a film about music). Reading back my original review it reminded me of a bad version of Chasing Amy.

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nimimerkillinen
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#7

Post by nimimerkillinen » January 30th, 2019, 3:13 pm

didnt like chasing amy and thought it was very different, saw it maybe 3-4 times when was teenager but not sure would i appreciate it no, might be just watchable or ~ok - maybe will rewatch some day

Shagrrotten
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#8

Post by Shagrrotten » January 31st, 2019, 4:06 pm

Carmel1379 wrote:
January 30th, 2019, 11:45 am

Oh don't worry, I think everyone formerly on FG or CFB who became a regular here can back me up in saying they also got used to this forum's design. From lurking around I know you're quite active on FG-reddit, in comparison it's (unfortunately) a bit less bustling here (while being mostly challenges & lists focused), with no thread-format for replying to individual users, but the place has got its own pleasant dynamic.
Yeah I feel like it’s hard to have conversations here because you can’t directly reply to someone. It feels more like the old AOL chat rooms than a real discussion board. I’ll still try and stick around but this is more confusing than it should be.

Shagrrotten
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#9

Post by Shagrrotten » January 31st, 2019, 4:12 pm

OldAle1 wrote:
January 30th, 2019, 2:46 pm
Thanks for posting that and the memories Shag. I don't really remember it all that well myself, but I do remember it better than a lot of better (and worse) films that I haven't seen in 20+ years, likely because of the connections with my own life - living in Chicago at the time, knowing the neighborhoods, having met both Joan and John a couple of times, and having a lot of friends who were obsessive list makers* and having a pretty poor record in my love-life. And Springsteen obviously. It's exactly the kind of movie I SHOULD have loved but really didn't, maybe because it was too close, or maybe because I was too much the arthouse snob at the time. Honestly it sort of runs together with Say Anything in my mind these days - I should probably re-watch them both as a double feature for V-Day or at least sometime this coming month.

And Big Night of course. Someday.

* by our standards at the time - nothing compared to people on this forum or perhaps people in general in the Internet era.
Yeah I wondered what your thoughts were, being a Chicago guy, I totally forgot about our shared Springsteen love. I think a Say Anything/High Fidelity double feature would be awesome. They certainly have some similarities and would play nicely together.

And yeah, I never recommend Big Night as a movie that will connect with most people. But I’ve wondered since you and I are both passionate about cooking it makes me wonder what your reaction will be.

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#10

Post by PeacefulAnarchy » January 31st, 2019, 7:07 pm

Shagrrotten wrote:
January 31st, 2019, 4:06 pm
Carmel1379 wrote:
January 30th, 2019, 11:45 am

Oh don't worry, I think everyone formerly on FG or CFB who became a regular here can back me up in saying they also got used to this forum's design. From lurking around I know you're quite active on FG-reddit, in comparison it's (unfortunately) a bit less bustling here (while being mostly challenges & lists focused), with no thread-format for replying to individual users, but the place has got its own pleasant dynamic.
Yeah I feel like it’s hard to have conversations here because you can’t directly reply to someone. It feels more like the old AOL chat rooms than a real discussion board. I’ll still try and stick around but this is more confusing than it should be.
Quoting serves that purpose. Threaded topics make it easy to follow a specific chain but much harder to follow a broader conversation. The idea is that if someone is writing about something completely different it should be in a new thread (admittedly it doesn't always work out that way). It's nowhere near busy enough here to feel as chaotic as a chat room.

High Fidelity is pretty great, I haven't watched it in a long time.

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