Independent Pick: High Fidelity
It’s easy to forget that High Fidelity (Stephen Frears) is an independent movie because of its massive success, but it’s actually a lower-budget adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name – though the setting has been changed from London to Chicago. Coming from the pen of John Cusack, Steve Pink, D.V DeVincentis and Scott Rosenberg, Cusack also brings his now definitive snarky brilliance to the role of Rob Gordon, High Fidelity‘s down-in-the-dumps lead character.
Rob (Cusack) owns a moderately successful record store, and employs Barry (the utterly brilliant Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso). He has also just been dumped by his long-term girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle). His sudden single status prompts a period of reflection, during which he decides to re-visit his former flames to find out what really went wrong with each of them, in the hope of gaining some kind of closure and clarity. Through the lens of his music obsession, he runs down his top 5 all-time worst break-ups. The story becomes essentially a character study of this man, who discovers that the carefully constructed narrative he has been telling himself all these years is some distance from the truth lived by those around him.
Though the film is basically about a self-involved guy navel-gazing, it is a fascinating piece of work. Rob Gordon is a bad guy. Not ‘serial-killer’ bad, but ‘manipulative and unwittingly emotionally abusive’ kind of bad (demonstrated, in particular, by the way his high school girlfriend recalls his treatment of her, and his reaction to those memories). He’s the kind of bad that creeps up on you slowly, and quietly destroys your soul while you’re not looking. This film is about him realizing those traits, accepting them, and trying to do better. His character is incredibly well written, and finds the perfect foil in Iben Hjejle’s Laura – who has grown up and away from the infantile Rob. These two leads deliver excellent performances – particularly Cusack, who presents Rob entirely without judgement.
The rest of the cast is filled with phenomenal names – Tim Robbins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lisa Bonet, Sara Gilbert, Lili Taylor and Joan Cusack – all of whom turn in perfect renditions of their characters. It is at once funny, poignant and heartbreaking, as each character makes mistakes, and seeks forgiveness. There are no heroes here – just people living their messy, complicated lives while trying to minimize the collateral damage. This is high quality filmmaking and comes highly recommended.