Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: John Cusack, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet,
Joan Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Lili Taylor, Tim Robbins
Director: Stephen Frears
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85.1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: September 19, 2000
High Fidelity is a rare and original comedy. Itís one that succeeds because it is hysterically funny, but also because the situations that the majority of the laughs come from are very real, and feel real. Such characters are rare to find in comedies, but the script is so intelligently written, and cleverly mixes in scenes of tender romance, slapstick comedy, and genuine feel-good moments, along with a first class soundtrack, since the film does have a lot to do with music. All of these elements add up to one of the absolute best movies of the new millennium.
The movie stars John Cusack, fabulous as always, as Rob Gordon; the hapless owner of a vinyl record store called Championship Vinyl. "Itís located in a neighborhood that attracts the bare minimum of window shoppers", Rob informs us. His only two employees are the soft spoken, opinionated Dick (Todd Louiso), and the extremely opinionated, customer hating Barry, played by Jack Black, who steals the film right from scene one. One of the filmís many smarts is the way it expresses the notion that itís important to express what kind of music you like, and itís necessary to have certain preferences, which reflects how I feel about music, having previously worked at a music store. Rob and Barry differ constantly on this issue. Barry introduction has him shutting off a tape of Belle and Sebastian that Rob and Dick were previously enjoying, only to have it replaced by the 80s retro track Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves, and using full volume, too. Barry also criticizes Robís clothing, love life, and his abilities as a manager. He questions Rob, "How can someone who has no interest in music own a record store?"
Rob is hapless because of the one thing missing in his life: love. Heís been through many heart breaking relationships, enough to make a "Top 5 all-time Breakup List". He has now broken up with Laura (Iben Hjejle), and seems more hung up on her than any other girl in his life, and though at first refuses to include her in his personal Top 5 List, it has definitely snuck in to the Top 10. She continues to call Rob at work, but only to remind him when sheíll be able to pick up her stuff at his apartment, which of course, makes him more miserable. Later, heís informed that sheís seeing another man, in the form of the extremely supercilious Ian (Tim Robbins), but Rob continues to persuade Laura to give him and her another chance.
In the midst of his current love crisis, Rob does have a chance encounter with a local singer named Marie (Lisa Bonet), whom he does end up sleeping with, only because she feels sex is a God given right, and therefore doesn't start anything serious. He feels good about it, but still cannot get over Laura. He advises her to leave Ian, which leads to an encounter with Ian in the record store in a scene that will have you howling by its end. One inspired moment finds Rob getting some imaginary advice from none other than Bruce Springsteen on how to forgive and forget his former flames, and just move on down the road. He does that, but each of his encounters end up revealing something unexpected, even if Rob doesnít realize it at first.
British filmmaker Stephen Frears, who collaborated with Cusack on The Grifters in 1990, directs the film, and does a wonderful job of creating this underground, yet very real world, with very real people. Rob serves as the movieís narrator, and talks directly to the camera, and the viewer. The decision to use that strategy is a frankly a genius one. There have been many films in the past that have used this technique. It can be somewhat tedious at times, but this is the first film to use it to perfection since Ferris Buellerís Day Off, 14 years ago.
Cusack, who also helped adapt the screenplay, is brilliant in this role, and is the ideal choice. After much success with Say Anything and Grosse Pointe Blank, Cusack is one actor you can count on to deliver with the greatest of ease, though Rob is clearly a more complicated character than Lloyd Dobler or even Martin Blank, as brilliantly complicated as that character was. As mentioned before, the scene-stealer here is Jack Black, a comedic actor who Iíve seen before in numerous pop-up roles, who gives a hysterical star making performance here. Black, as it turns out, is a talented singer too, and his rendition of Marvin Gayeís "Letís Get it On" is a real treat at the end of the film. The film also boasts noteworthy performances from Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
High Fidelity is a movie that represents not just the clerks of music stores, who know what theyíre talking about, but also for anyone whoís employed in something he or she knows a great deal about. Itís a homage to clerks of video stores, bookstores, writers, journalists, salespeople, etc. Now how often do we get a film like that: hardly ever. Itís an all around triumph.
Disney continues its string of top quality transfers, following their amazing transfer for Mission to Mars. This anamorphic widescreen presentation is enormously well transferred to DVD. Images are crisp and sharp for the entire presentation, with no grain at all. Colors come in bright and lively, with no noticeable bleeding whatsoever. I did see the movie in theaters, but I find it to be much better to look at home on the disc.
Since this is a film that is mainly revolved around music, and a lot of music is played in the film, all of it comes through clearly and lively in this Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. When thereís no music, thereís mostly talking, and thereís not much you say on the audio transfer of that. But when the music kicks in, it is sure to rock you instantly.
Some good use of extras from the folks at Disney. Included are a trailer, nine deleted scenes (one of which includes a cameo from Beverly DíAngelo), and an insightful series of interviews with John Cusack and director Stephen Frears, which cover the process of adapting the novel, creating characters, and casting decisions.
High Fidelity is one this yearís greatest films, and certainly one of the best films ever made that tackles the issue of music. As I mentioned before, I was employed at a music store for a few years, and I connected immediately with the characters. You simply have to be a flat out film lover, and music lover (and who isnít) to be enthralled by the film. Watching it, youíll discover that music truly is the soundtrack to your life.