Directed by Stephen Frears
High Fidelity is that rare combination of drama and comedy that hits all the right notes.
Rob (John Cusack) with "The One" (Iben Hjejle)
Photo: Touchstone Pictures
Like great rock 'n' roll songs, High Fidelity is all about life, love, and the celebration of music's liberating powers in both good times and bad.
It's based on a book by Nick Hornby, who also wrote Fever Pitch. That one gained a double meaning in title when transplanted from its London roots, where "pitch" referred to the soccer field, to Boston, wherein it referred to the baseball action in the Farrelly Brothers' 2005 movie. This time the location has changed from London to Chicago and there's still a subtle double meaning. High Fidelity of course refers to the sonic experience. But at its core, this one's all about a person's fidelity to self and others.
Rob Gordon (John Cusack, Say Anything...) lives his life by and through music. He's a record shop owner going through a sort of pre-midlife crisis. What happened to finding his dream love? How does his life compare to his top five dream jobs (given qualifications, history, time, and salary were no object)? Did his fear of commitment undermine his own future? Rob's life, such as it is, revolves around DJ gigs and managing a record shop in a part of town that gets very little foot traffic.
His partners in musicology are a couple dyed-in-the-wool music snobs. Barry (Jack Black, front man for the hard-rockin' duo that is Tenacious D) is given free rein to mouth off at customers who exhibit bad musical tastes. He's passionate about the topic and he takes music trivia as seriously as matters of life, death, and national security. He's bold, brash, totally obnoxious, and undeniably entertaining.
At the other end of the spectrum is Dick (Todd Louiso, The Rock). He's the quiet one, but no less snobby when it comes to music and musical knowledge.
There are times when poor Rob is tempted to fire his help, but then he has to come to terms with this one fact: He hired them to come in as part-time help three days a week and they've been coming in every day - all day - for the past four years.
It's hard to get good help like that.
Surrounding the funny bits at the record store is a drama about Rob's life and loves that provides a lot of punch. The movie rings true on all counts as Rob rattles off his Top Five Loves and their inevitable breakups. His analysis of where things went wrong is hardly of the overwrought, emotionally-draining variety found in most rom-coms. He pulls no punches and quickly gets down to the underlying problems as he seeks closure, one of those things women often demand and men seldom get.
Barry (Jack Black) lets it rip
Photo: Touchstone Pictures
Back in his DJ days, Rob was able to get involved with some more-than-hip ladies. And therein is another one of the movie's many delights. Those loves include Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Mask of Zorro) and Lisa Bonet (yeah, the one from The Cosby Show). Frustrating Rob at every turn is Ray (perfectly played by Tim Robbins, The Shawshank Redemption). He's the definitive sensitive new age type, right down to the ponytail and genteel mannerisms.
To fill up brain space after one particularly bitter breakup, Rob reorganizes his library of hundreds upon hundreds of vinyl LPs. Not by title. Not by artist. But by autobiographical significance. That's hard core.
And then there's THE cameo. It's one of the hard rockinest cameos ever committed to film. Bruce Springsteen with his guitar. He advises Rob, a mere grasshopper in comparison, to give a final "Good luck, good bye" to the top five then move on.
So true, so true.
The DVD includes a decent collection of supplemental materials.
The section entitled Conversations with John Cusack and Stephen Frears could've been presented in a more seamless manner, but as it stands it's a collection of five brief clips each of Cusack and Frears commenting on different aspects of the movie and production, including the adaptation from Nick Hornby's novel and, yes, music. Each clip lasts, in general, 2-3 minutes. While Frears' comments tend to be more enlightening, it's certainly worthwhile to check out Cusack's section as well. Unfortunately, though, there's no "Play All" option, so the navigation is a bit tedious.
There's also a collection of nine deleted scenes. A particularly nice aspect of this section is that they are all finished scenes, it's not a collection of rough cut footage. The scenes range from less than a minute to 4 minutes each. Among the best is a very cool one about the sale of a collection of extremely rare 45s; there's also a brief scene that makes a humorous observation about foreplay; and one in which Rob frets over a list of the top five - and only five - songs of all time is definitely worth watching. At the other end of the spectrum, a scene involving a couple shoplifting-prone kids is pretty bland and unnecessary.
As with the conversations section, there's no "Play All" option on the deleted scenes.
Also included is the theatrical trailer, presented in a decidely non-theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
Picture and Sound
The film is presented in 1.85:1, enhanced for 16x9 TVs, offering a fine-enough picture quality.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound isn't the definitive high fidelity soundtrack, but it serves the material well, particularly in scenes with more sonic ambience, including rain effects and, yeah, music.
While it's not a showcase presentation, overall it certainly fits the mood and atmosphere of the movie, which focuses on people and all their self-inflicted complications.
Also available are subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired and Spanish.
How to Use This Disc
Absorb all the pleasures High Fidelity has to offer then bop over to the deleted scenes and check out the ones entitled Records for Sale, Top Five Dream Jobs, The Interview, Sonic Death Monkey, and Foreplay.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.