High Fidelity
directed by Stephen Frears
(Touchstone, 2000)

The best way to describe High Fidelity is to use its soundtrack: it's just as long as the list of actor credits, it's just as surprising and it is, without exception, right on track.

It figures. John Cusack, who stars in and shares writing credits for High Fidelity, is the music consultant for this one, too. And, just like 1997's Grosse Point Blank, it's full of little moments that, if you're Cusack's age, you recognize as a perfect fit -- either the title or the lyrics give a sly little push to the storyline.

Cusack in this film is Rob, owner of a record store where he and his part-time assistants who are in the store full time, Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black), endlessly debate the merits of their vinyl discs, create top-five lists and rush off any actual customers who aren't obsessed by music but foolishly come through the door anyway. Rob has a girlfriend, Laura, who starts the movie by moving out. No surprise. As good as their relationship is, both of them, especially Rob, have one foot out the door.

And Rob has a knack for screwing up even the best of relationships. He can't figure out why all his old girlfriends aren't with him anymore. So he decides to track them down and ask them. And, as Laura comes back again and again to the apartment to get more of her stuff, he grills her about her new boyfriend, the insufferably pretentious older-man twit Ian (Tim Robbins). And, as Rob bounces back and forth between quizzing former girlfriends and agonizing over Laura, his record store buddies give him no slack.

Much of the film's story is told through the soundtrack, and even more comes through Cusack's conversational monologues with the camera. It's a nice balance, and a fine line to tread -- how to make the music part of the story instead of a blanket over it, how to pop in some cameos (keep your eyes open to the end), how to keep the monologues from becoming too much of a crutch. And the title itself is a nice pun on Rob's struggle to find some stability -- or to figure out if he wants any at all.

Cusack, as in Grosse Point Blank or Say Anything, plays an everyman with some quirks. If you're in your 20s or 30s, you probably know a Rob, frustrating and absolutely brilliant in his chosen, usually unlucrative, field (music, sports trivia, cartoons, 1970s television). You can see why he pines for Iben Hjejle, who gives Laura her own independence. She's not waiting to be rescued by Rob.

But the scene-stealers are Louiso and Black, as the diametrically opposed record store clerks who glommed onto Rob's store and made it their clubhouse. When Black enters into one of Barry's rants, his eyes narrowing at the unbounded stupidity and bad taste of a customer asking for a schmaltzy record, he makes the venom drop-dead hysterical.

[ by Jen Kopf ]

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