Directed By: Stephen Frears
Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso
Tag line: "A comedy about fear of commitment, hating your job, falling in love and other pop favorites"
Trivia: Artie Lange auditioned for the role of Barry
In the late '80s, I had a pretty sweet audio system in my room; nothing state-of-the-art, but it afforded me the opportunity to mix dozens upon dozens of compilation tapes, which I created from the plethora of albums, cassettes and CDs in my collection. I spent many hours in front of that set-up, all in the hopes of stumbling upon the perfect musical mix. At one point, my turnout had reached well over 150 tapes, and the only thing they had in common was I never listened to a single one. How could I? I was too busy making them. This is the key reason I find Stephen Frear’s High Fidelity so appealing; by relating the tale of a man whose entire life revolves around music, It showed me that, at the very least, I wasn’t alone in my obsession.
Rob Gordon (John Cusack) owns a struggling record store in downtown Chicago, one that still offers vinyl albums for sale. He passes the time between customers by discussing pop culture, and everything relating to it, with his two employees; the shy and unassuming Dick (Todd Louiso), and the loud and obnoxious Barry (Jack Black). Unfortunately, Rob’s vast knowledge of popular music hasn’t helped him accomplish much in life, and his current girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hiejle), fed up with Rob’s stagnant existence, has just left him for a guy named Ian (Tim Robbins). Faced with the heartbreak of losing Laura, Rob searches for the answer to a question that’s been hounding him for years: why do girls always dump him?
John Cusack shines as Rob, a likeable but clueless guy who narrates his own story, breaking down the fourth wall and demonstrating how he equates everything in life to music. Right after Laura leaves him, Rob concocts a ‘top five’ list of his all-time most painful breakups, running through his entire romantic history to find the five women who broke his heart. Thinking back on each one, he remembers “important” details like which recording artists were their favorites, yet has no idea why they ultimately rejected him. When at his store, Rob often grows impatient with Dick and Barry, and we sense it's because he realizes they’re just like him. The three spend most of the day coming up with ‘top five’ lists. When Laura’s father dies, Dick and Barry compile a ‘top five songs about death’ list in his honor (my personal favorite was Dick's addition of Gordon Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald). Music is their retreat from the real world, and Rob's growing weary of the fantasy. “People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos ”, Rob says, “Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss”.
As we learn in High Fidelity, those poor souls need our help as much as anyone.