Tuesday 13 June 2017

Movie Review: High Fidelity (2000)

A romantic comedy with some dramatic elements, High Fidelity goes for a grubby tone in both aesthetics and emotions.

In Chicago, Rob Gordon (John Cusack) runs a vinyl record store in a seedy part of town. Gordon's latest girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) has just walked out on him, accusing him of failing to grow up and not having enough ambition. Rob recollects his previous most memorable break-ups, including glamorous ex-girlfriend Charlie (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

Rob's co-workers are music geeks Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black). Dick is a timid introvert while Barry is an over-talkative amateur band member. As Rob works through his emotions, including conversing with his sister Liz (Joan Cusack), he meets budding singer Marie DeSalle (Lisa Bonet) and they develop a mutual but superficial attraction. Meanwhile Laura starts a new affair with ex-neighbour Ian Raymond (Tim Robbins) but she also stays in touch with Rob, providing him with hope that their relationship may be salvageable.

Directed by Stephen Frears, High Fidelity aims for an edgy, knowing vibe but veers too far away from its own essence. While the search for an original angle within the romantic comedy genre is welcome, too much of the film is obsessed with music minutiae and the competitive bickering of Dick and Barry at the record store. Initially funny, this side quest into the juvenile antics of two socially awkward friends invades most of the film, and the endless music trivia banter becomes a cause onto itself.

Meanwhile, Rob Gordon is an unfortunately unlikeable character to place in the middle of a film. A prototypical immature man, Rob does little to deserve any sympathy as he wonders why all his relationships fail. His journey to self-awareness is both trite and tedious. Frears' decision to have Rob break the fourth wall and narrate directly to the cameras throughout the whole film does not help, as despite John Cusack's best efforts Rob comes across as filled with an obnoxious combination of smugness and self-pity.

Laura holds more promise as an interesting character open to the opportunity of rescuing a long-term relationship, but the speed with which she takes up with Ian undermines her apparent continued investment in Rob.

What remains is a film soundtrack filled with a mixtape of obscure and lesser known songs, High Fidelity proudly displaying its high hip quotient, but forgetting to add the necessary substance to actually be relevant.

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