There is something about John Cusack. He is one of those actors that has a quality you can’t quite put your finger on, a natural style making him well-suited as the quietly confident, cool everyman. Cusack has crafted a career largely based on portraying lovable assholes (or at least the guy your parents don’t necessarily approve of). Arguably, High Fidelity is his best movie. Sure, Cusack may have been in more prestigious, award-winning films (like The Thin Red Line or Being John Malkovich), but Rob Gordon is the purest expression of his onscreen persona. A generation of young women fell in love with Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything (1989), but Gordon is who Dobler might have become. Smart and charming, but drifting, without a sense of purpose; which is cute when you’re eighteen, not when you’re thirty. As co-writer, maybe this was part of Cusack’s purpose in adapting the British novel for American screens, to create a cinematic doppelgänger for his most popular character and drag him down to Earth a bit.
High Fidelity was the next step in the cinematic ageing of Generation X, after movies like Reality Bites (1994), Singles (1992), and Suburbia (1996). What happened to all these “slacker” heroes five years after they (maybe) graduated from college and were thrust upon the world? Apparently, they went to Chicago and opened a record store. Gordon is stuck in a state of perpetual twenty-five-ness, lacking the desire for change or evolution. Any of the fantastical romanticism of the typical romantic comedy is gone here.
The film chronicles the vinyl (“fetish properties”) proprietor’s split from his longtime girlfriend, Laura, and his desire to win her back. Rob goes through his all-time top-5 breakup list in direct-to-camera narration, endearing the audience to him even as we learn of his many faults when it comes to women (some merely insensitive, some downright punch-worthy). Rob is joined by his two employees Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso), who were only hired for three days a week but keep showing up every day. The supporting cast of characters are perfect compliments for Cusack’s style; he sits back and lets them run wild, interjecting when necessary to move the plot along. Jack Black steals every scene he is in; this is role that made famous, he and Tim Robbins (as Laura’s New Age rebound guy) account for almost all the laughs. This flick has a balance between laugh-out-loud and funny-because-it’s-true moments. It’s the realistic romantic comedy, about guys who suck at relationships and have a hard time moving forward in life.
This movie is more relevant now than when it was released. The internet has become a mass of Robs, Barrys, and Dicks, with everyone sharing the thousands of meaningless “Top 5” lists from every site possible, and becoming growingly obsessed with random pop culture trivia. Music geeks are no longer hidden away in the corners of record shops, now it is commonplace to seek out the most obscure tracks from bands who only fanatics knew about a decade ago. Most obviously, there is the incredible resurgence of vinyl’s popularity (with cassettes not far behind). This is the perfect time to rediscover High Fidelity.