High Fidelity

Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black, Todd Louiso, Lisa Bonet, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality.

Review by Matt Heffernan
April 4, 2000

Unlike many of his peers, John Cusack survived the "Brat Pack" era of teen films from the 1980s. Now, he is one of the most interesting actors in Hollywood, and has the clout to get Disney to produce a very non-Disney film. Not only is his acting valued, but he has now co-written his second screenplay, re-teaming with D.V. DeVincentis -- his writing partner on Grosse Pointe Blank.

Cusack plays Rob Gordon, a record store owner in Chicago. His girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle), just left him, and now he has to re-evaluate his life. This is a specific process for him: simply put everything in top-five lists. His employees, Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso), take the same approach to life, where everything has a ranking, and if it can't make the top five, it's just not significant.

Laura's departure prompts a look at Rob's top five break-ups. He goes about looking them all up, trying to determine why all his relationships end poorly. During the process, he discovers that Laura is now living with middle-aged hipster Ian (Tim Robbins), which forces him to grudgingly admit Laura to his top five.

A film about pretentious nerds trying to find themselves is hardly the kind of project one would expect from Hollywood, but, as I said, Cusack can make it happen. Better yet, he can make it work incredibly well. Rob is a character of similar eccentricities to his roles in Say Anything... and Being John Malkovich: young men with obsessions that few can understand, whether they be kickboxing, puppetry, or record cataloguing. Cusack can make these characteristic roles sympathetic, even charismatic, letting the audience accept the oddball on the screen, and hope the best for him.

Of course, the right screenplay is necessary for this to work. High Fidelity, based on the novel by Nick Hornby (author of Fever Pitch), is both funny and honest in its depiction of human relationships. A great cast brings this to the screen with exceptional skill, especially Hjejle, who makes her English-language debut (she is also currently starring in the Danish film Mifune).

I'm writing this review after the box office estimates have been released, and it seems that people are not coming out for High Fidelity. It's a shame, because Disney could use more live-action films that can get both critical and financial success. If it continues, they'll be making more films like Mission to Mars and fewer like this one and The Insider. Don't say I didn't warn you.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
High Fidelity (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
High Fidelity (2000) -- VHS
High Fidelity (2000) -- DVD
High Fidelity, a novel by Nick Hornby -- Paperback
High Fidelity, a novel by Nick Hornby -- Audio Cassette (read by the author)
High Fidelity: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan