High Fidelity

High Fidelity

****1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

You’d be forgiven for thinking Nick Hornby’s popular novel wouldn’t translate to the big screen. Indeed, given that Stephen Frears' adaptation moves the story from London to Chicago and shifts the bloke-orientated viewpoint to something a little broader, you’d be forgiven for writing it off altogether. But don’t. For while it may look like dumbing down from the outside, High Fidelity isn't a big, soulless studio-picture; it's a funny and well-written dramedy that stays loyal to Hornby's source.

Owning a less-than-successful backstreet record store in Chicago, pop geek Rob Gordon (John Cusack) spends all his time either discussing music with the two shop assistants (Jack Black, Todd Louiso) or making lists of just about anything. When long-term girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) leaves him, though, Rob obsesses over all his previous breakups, trying to work out where it all went wrong.

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You're probably wondering how a movie relates all the narrator's inner-thoughts as described in the book - which, according to Frears, are the best bits - without seeming contrived? Well, simple really. You have star Cusack (who also co-produced, co-wrote and helped scout locations) offer them up to the camera Alfie-style. To start with, the speaking-to-the-camera structure might take some getting used to, but like a catchy tune that worms its way into your foot-tapping subconscious, the beat eventually sucks you in.

One of the many reasons why High Fidelity is essential viewing is how well-observed it is when dealing with love and relationships. As Rob chats away to the camera and, essentially, to us as an audience, the material is so insightful that it’s near-impossible not to compare his experiences with your own. The heartache of being dumped, the bad-decisions you make, the way that reality never, repeat, never lives up the fantasy... 99 per cent of the time it's scarily true-to-life.

But yet, where the movie really shines is in the record store. Perfectly (not near-perfectly, perfectly) capturing the autobiographical nature of pop music, the time-passing chats and endless list-debates - top five songs for a Monday morning, top five tunes for a funeral, top five side-ones and so on - gift us the best 'working in a shop' scenes since Clerks. Plus, given the amount of song discussions and artist name-dropping, real music fans (ie, those whose collection veers towards the likes of The Stones, Stevie Wonder, The Clash, Aretha etc and not disposable pop) will get that extra level of enjoyment.

Rob's interactions with Laura don't have the same sparkle, but Cusack and the script perfectly (again, perfectly, not near-perfectly) capture the essence of being dumped. While JC occasionally over-plays his hand - the shouting sometimes seems fake and out of place - there's a nice Woody Allen-ish neurotic self-obsessed angle to Rob. There's plenty of good support from the likes of Louiso as meek shop-assistant Dick (the dream sequence where he beats a cameoing Tim Robbins is genius), yet Jack Black easily hijacks every single scene he's in, giving the turn of his career. Superb.

Top five reasons High Fidelity is essential viewing; 1) The relationship material is spot on. 2) It captures the meaning of music. 3) The Cusack talks to camera. 4) The cast. 5) The soundtrack rocks.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2010
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High Fidelity packshot
Comedy about a record store owner and his romantic break ups.
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Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: DV DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack, Scott Rosenberg, based on the novel by Nick Hornby

Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Chris Rehmann, Ben Carr, Lili Taylor

Year: 2000

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, US

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