High Fidelity

John Cusack is an extremely charismatic actor, and that's what carries High Fidelity, a story about a self-absorbed misogynistic record store owner who is wrestling with his relationship conscience.

The movie comes off as a light-hearted comedy, and it's understandable why, especially if you've not read the book. Rob (John Cusack) is a record store owner with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music. He has two employees, the cocky Barry (Jack Black) and the timid Dick (Todd Louiso), who also share his passion and together, they form a dysfunctional support network of sorts.

At the beginning of the film, Rob asks the question of whether he listens to pop music because he is depressed, or whether it is listening to pop music that has made him depressed. We're then shown, from a first-person narrative with flashbacks, Rob's reason for being down: his current girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) has left him for Ian (a pony-tailed Tim Robbins), their spiritual neighbour who specialises in conflict resolution. Rob wallows in self-pity and insecurity and analyses the top five major breakups of his life to glean some pattern on why his relationships are doomed to end in failure.

However, a cursory (albeit rational) examination of the reasons why Laura left Rob would be extremely revealing in this regard. Simply put, Rob is an insecure self-centred jerk who because of his insecurity ends up hurting those around him. I'm an idealist and an extremely forgiving turn-the-other-cheek kind of person, but in general when a person is like this, I would (sadly) advocate walking from them. Especially given Rob's history, where his actions, on at least one occasion (which makes number two on his list), have had a negative impact on the people he has gone out with. In a way, this film is like a lot of Woody Allen movies where Allen portrays a dysfunctional neurotic, and illustrates the direction John Cusack is going in. His last film, Being John Malkovich featured a similar character (in a sense). Cusack, being the fine actor that he is, makes us like Rob even give all his faults, but I think reality in general would be different than as depicted in the film.

The movie is also about pop music culture. The characters are all obsessive about their music and it makes a lot of sense: pop music resonates most when you're starting or ending a relationship. The movie pays tribute to the cult pop favourites (bands like The Velvet Underground), while also sticking to the mainstream ones as well (bands like Green Day). As a music lover, it was exhilarating to play the "let's see how many music references I can get" game, and on that level, the movie works incredibly well.

The acting is superb: Cusack is incredibly charismatic and pulls off the first-person narrative without being boring. Jack Black and Todd Louiso provide a lot of comic relief, and even though the former is more in-your-face, the latter has a more difficult role to play and manages it extremely well. All of Rob's love interests, which include some notable screen names, are cast appropriately and perform their parts convincingly. In particular, Lisa Bonet, playing a sexy singer who seduces Rob, shows that she is growing old very well. Danish actress Iben Hjejle carries the female lead role strongly, though it is not evident that the feelings between them are so deep that Rob would pursue her to such great lengths and that she would take him back after what he has done to her. The movie is funny, and in particular, the scenes where Rob imagines inflicting great amounts of bodily harm on Ian with the help of Dick and Barry, and the cameo with Bruce Springsteen, are hilarious.

High Fidelity has been talked about as portraying the romantic existence of the "average guy", but in all honesty, if Rob truly was an "average guy", I'd feel pretty sad for the human race. There is something to be said for being a jerk, a bit of a loser, and still managing to attract a lot of people, and that is anything but "average" (and this ignores his passion for pop music, which most people do not possess). I highly recommend High Fidelity, but make sure you take off the pink lenses before watching it. As cute as the characters and the actors portraying them are, the movie's ultimate message may well be that the source of one's relationship problems are within themselves.

Movie ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org