High Fidelity (2000)

Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by John Cusack, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink & Scott Rosenberg, based on the novel by Nick Hornby
Starring John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black, Todd Louiso, Tim Robbins

My Advice: Matinee

Rob (Cusack) is a guy who's got it pretty good.  He owns a record store and practices the fine art of musical snobbery with his two semi-sociopathic employees, Barry (Black) and Dick (Louiso).  He's also got a girlfriend, Laura (Hjejle), and everything seems to be going well--until she leaves him.  In the wake of Laura's departure, he proceeds to relate his Top Five all-time breakups, and wants to confront those portions of his past to see if he and Laura have a future.

Sound bland?  Sound like another "she did me wrong" romantic wannabe-comedy?  Well, good news: it's not.  This film, in the wrong hands, could have easily degenerated into standard date movie fare. Luckily, the parties involved all knew what they were doing. First of all, you've got John Cusack and two of his co-writers of Grosse Pointe Blank involved. Because of this, you have great dialogue to be delivered and a headlining star who knows how to deliver it. This is a good thing, since Rob spends a good deal of the movie breaking the fourth wall to address the audience. This is normally a device that can either be endearing or distancing, and in this case it's the former. But is that enough to carry the film? Probably not. So it's a good thing John and company brought along a fairly diverse ensemble to help out. Tim Robbins shows he has a good sense of humor by playing the new age Ian, whose scene involving the music store and an air conditioner is gutbustingly funny. Sister Joan Cusack is along for the ride as usual and is wonderful as usual. Hjejle's Laura could have been a thankless role, i.e. the female caught in the brutal viewpoint of a spurned male, but she manages to pull it off with grace. Nevertheless, the standout of the film right behind John Cusack is Jack Black, whose surly antagonistic Barry is just so caustic you have to love him. His berating of the poor father who just wanted a Stevie Wonder single for his daughter (who may or may not be in a coma) is the tip of his belligerent iceberg.

We need to give some extra credit to John Cusack for stepping outside his usual parade of Likable Guy roles (his Ellsworth Toohey impersonation in the abysmal Cradle Will Rock does not count) to portray, well, an ass. The film has enough sense to balance the poignancy with the gutlaughs, and great music with smart dialogue. Catch a matinee to save some bucks, but do catch it.

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