Cusack and co. lend sharp humor to `Fidelity'
By JILLIAN DEPAUL
Scene Movie Critic
The offbeat romantic comedy "High Fidelity," directed by Stephen Frears and adapted from the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby, is a delightfully fresh coming-of-age story about a 30-something slacker named Rob Gordon, played by John Cusack (who also co-wrote and co-produced the film).
The credits of "High Fidelity" read like a game of Six Degrees of John Cusack: It stars his sister, two-time Oscar nominee Joan Cusack; it is directed by Frears, who directed John Cusack's 1990 film, "The Grifters;" and it was written by Steve Pink, D. V. DeVincentis, Steve Rosenthal and Cusack, who collectively wrote John Cusack's 1997 film "Gross Pointe Blanke," a film which dared to ask the question "How does a hitman handle his 10-year high school reunion?"
It has seemed, throughout his career, that Cusack has been drawn to characters with similar hang-ups, such as an uncertainty about the future and fear of their own potential. Rob is no different. He would certainly appreciate the "I don't want to buy anything, sell anything or process anything" monologue delivered by Cusack's Lloyd Dobbler (the originator of the boom-box serenade) in 1988's "Say Anything."
Rob would also appreciate the fact that "Gross Pointe Blanke's" Martin Blanke became a professional killer to avoid going to college.
Gordon is an underachieving owner of a record store in downtown Chicago, whose insecurities about the reality of his potential manifest themselves in ranked lists and an over-the-top love of music (specifically, his own record collection).
"High Fidelity's" story actually takes the form of a relationship history for the commitment-phobic Rob, who, after breaking up with his latest girlfriend, ranks his top 5 toughest break-ups. He decides to revisit these women with the hope of finding out why he is doomed to be alone forever. To make matters worse, Rob is trying to get back together with his latest break-up, Laura (newcomer Ibene Hjejle) and trying to hook-up with musician Marie de Salle (Lisa Bonet).
Throughout the film, Rob addresses the audience directly, offering his quirky musings on life and love. This does wonders for his character, allowing him to be seen as endearingly insecure, instead of shallow and selfish. He offers some wonderful insights into the world of relationships, such as, "It's not what you are like, but what you like. Books, films, music. These things are important."
Another extra special moment is when Rob explicates the intricacies of making a successful compilation tape. These, among many others, are memorable moments created by a genuinely original and clever script. And Cusack delivers them with an uncommon sincerity that allows him to shine despite his unfortunate haircut.
The film features a few big-name stars in bit parts, such as Catherine Zeta-Jones as one of the five dreaded ex-girlfriends and Tim Robbins as the spiritual guru with whom Laura shacks up with after she leaves Rob.
The standout supporting stars of "High Fidelity," however, are Rob's two employees: Dick and Barry.
Relative newcomer Jack Black plays Barry and Todd Louiso, who some will recognize from his "child technician" role in "Jerry Maguire," plays Dick.
Each of these music-obsessed employees lacks something in his life and overcompensates it with his excessive love for music. Dick is a sensitive guy who longs to share his feelings with more than a record player and Barry secretly dreams of rock-and-roll fame. When these two get together and discuss music, usually in a series of challenges to come up with the "top 5" of some obscure category, their banter is priceless.
The real supporting character of "High Fidelity," however, is the record store itself. Named "Championship Vinyl," it takes on a distinct persona to which contributing factors are the interaction of the employees, the decor and the music itself. This is appropriate since the film communicates in the language of music.
Even though "High Fidelity" never truly reaches the heightened emotional level of which it is capable, it is a funny and intelligent movie. It's a shoo-in for the "top 5" of that rare breed: smart, romantic comedies.
4 out of 5 shamrocks
All Scene Stories for Thursday, April 6, 2000