High Fidelity (2000)

My Rating:

A soundtrack hogs center stage while a man doomed to lose at love takes one shaky step forward.
Add 1/2 star if you can relate to a depressed, emotionally immature record-store owner.

Bitable Bytes:
"I Love Movies!”
“The Boom Operators Did a Fine Job!”
“...A Light And Enjoyable Film!”

What to do while watching:
Have patience. When your patience runs out, make chili or some other one-pot type of dinner.

What to eat while watching:
A helping of above.

My patience has been tested, friends. You know that I love movies so much that even the most meager films, in my humble opinion, deserve at least nine stars for all the work put into them. But every once in a while, a movie comes along that makes such bad choices, I can hardly bring myself to remember that so many people and so much creativity went into making the video I get to watch. O Lord, grant me gratitude.

I am thankful that in High Fidelity, the boom operators did a fine job of keeping the microphones from dangling into the camera frame. I am thankful that the credits were clear and easy to read--nice job to the credit makers! The videocassette did not malfunction and the prior viewer had done their duty to rewind the tape. Thank you, whoever you are! I am glad that Nick Hornby went on to write About a Boy, which was a light and enjoyable read and an equally light and enjoyable film.

Ah, that’s better. Now, let me offer some constructive criticism on High Fidelity. Of course, since the film has already been “constructed,” my criticism is not able to improve the product. Too bad....

High Fidelity is About a Boy...in a man’s body. John Cusack plays the midlife loser, Rob, who owns a record story, fetishizes music (you know the type), and cannot seem to win at love. This could be the set up for a sympathetic story, except that Cusack is so smarmy in his acting and hogs the screen so much with his ironic, self-satisfied tone that it’s almost impossible to get around what a jerk he is. It’s no wonder all his relationships end in disaster: he’s a selfish, self-absorbed whiner with a severely flawed perception of reality. His jealous fits, his brooding, his projectile bitterness all point to a person who is doomed to singlehood.

Whatever development or roundness the character could have is roundly squashed under a heavy-handed stylistic gimmick: the story is couched in top-five lists spoken by the narrator directly into the camera. This means that:
1) All character development is told in long monologues, not shown in actions or events, for maximum distancing and minimum emotional impact;
2) All the men in this film relate using top-five lists, further staling the trope;
3) The gimmick gets drastically tiring after the third one;
4) The director has to come up with ways to vary the delivery of these lists, and that creates a pall of phony contrivance, as when the ex-girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle, that’s not a typo) finds one of Rob’s lists written out on a piece of paper on his kitchen table. Come on! He speaks his lists out loud; he doesn’t write them down! And he’s supposed to write one neatly and leave it on his kitchen table one day, not ball it up and chuck it across the room in a petulant frenzy?! It doesn’t ring true to the character (but in that, it fits nicely into this movie);
5) This gets pretty dull, doesn’t it? But wait, I’ll do another one immediately so you can get the effect without having to sit through all of High Fidelity.

Top five continuity disconnects in High Fidelity:
1) In the first hour of the film, Rob’s alternative record store in Chicago is dismally low on foot traffic. About an hour into the movie, there’s a scene in which all the aisles are full. The store has a spike from zero to two customers at a time to about thirty. No explanation is given for this.
2) Joan Cusack, playing a mutual friend of both Rob and Laura, storms into the store and cusses Rob out. Before this, she’s his confidant. After this, she becomes his friend again. Granted, this hot-and-cold behavior is explained by the star-crossed fuss between lovers, but how many people are that extreme and demonstrative toward their Friday-friends-Monday-enemies?
3) While broken up with Laura, Rob sleeps with Lisa Bonet. Then, when Laura sleeps with Tim Robbins, Rob goes into a jealous rage, not once revisiting or examining his own fling as a single. That’s more of a depth problem than a continuity problem.
4) Rob cites Nirvana in one of his top-five best songs list. Later, he talks about loving Fleetwood Mac. But nowhere else is his split personality mentioned.
5) After a breakup, Rob gets drunk and wanders pitifully in the rain. After a breakup, Rob gets drunk and wanders pitifully in the rain. After a breakup, Rob gets drunk and wanders pitifully in the rain. I kid you not, this happens three times in a two-hour movie! Is anyone paying attention?

Didn’t anyone who read the shooting script notice the disturbing repetition of:

It is raining.”?

Rob’s top five character defects that lead me to believe that, if the film’s timeline were extended just one more week into the future, then Rob and Laura would break up again:
1) He thinks making a mix tape is the best way to communicate your feelings;
2) He’s an obsessive-compulsive nerd unconvincingly disguised as a cynical hipster;
3) The pinnacle of his romantic philosophy can be summarized: “Since acting out my fantasies never lives up to my imagination, I’d rather just be with plain old you and not have to work so hard at love anymore.”
4) As a youth, he dumps his high-school sweetie because she won’t put out. Three days later, his high school buddy has sex with her. He took it as rejection at the time. When he reconnects with her as an adult and finds out that his rejection of her severely hurt her feelings and led to what she describes as practically a rape, he thinks, “This is great! I dumped her! She never dumped me!”
5) He’s played by John Cusack.

It all brings me to my biggest difficulty with this film: Who could care about this loser? He spends too much time in his head, and, having joined him for 110 minutes, I can tell you that it’s a pretty unpleasant place to hang out.

Some might flip out over Bruce Springsteen’s cameo without noticing that he’s a pretty poor actor. Others might rave about how funny Jack Black is as the loud-mouthed record store clerk. I’ll concede to “mildly amusing,” but he’s far from uproarious, and he’s not given nearly enough camera time to make this muddle into anything entertaining. My constructive criticism, summed up, would be don’t see it. If you have to see it, don’t pay for it. If you have to pay for it, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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For your collection: High Fidelity (DVD), High Fidelity (VHS)

Gooden's Listening To: Manu Chao's Clandestino Wow! Now thatís a great record. Note the sound from the Galaxians video game.

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