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With: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Lili Taylor, Natasha Gregson Wagner
Written by: John Cusack, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, Scott Rosenberg, based on the book by Nick Hornby
Directed by: Stephen Frears
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality
Language: English
Running Time: 114
Date: 03/17/2000

High Fidelity (2000)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Wax Tracks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's hard for me to objectively review a John Cusack movie because I grew up watching him and identifying with him. He was a geeky freshman in high school when I was a geeky freshman in high school (1984's Sixteen Candles). He was desperately in love when I was desperately in love (1989's Say Anything). And he just kept getting better and better in films like Stephen Frears' The Grifters (1990), Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway (1994), Clint Eastwood's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997), Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998), and Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich (1999). He's like Generation X's version of Humphrey Bogart. When you see John Cusack being cool in a movie, you want to be him. And even though that's an adolescent's game, I haven't stopped playing it.

So I can say pretty confidently that moviegoers between the ages of 25 and 35 will really enjoy High Fidelity, Cusack's follow-up to his first film as screenwriter and producer, Grosse Pointe Blank (1997). Others I'm not so sure about, though they will be out there (my mother-in-law loved Grosse Pointe Blank, so...).

Cusack plays Rob, a semi-slacker in Chicago who owns his own record store and obsesses over lost girlfriends, including his most recent one, Laura, played by the lovely Iben Hjejle (also in the current Mifune). His co-workers are a Michael Stipe-wannabe (Todd Louiso) and a John Belushi-wannabe (Jack Black). The three of them are music snobs and test each other with top five lists (top five Side One/Track One songs; top five Monday morning songs, etc.). Rob also runs through his top five biggest heartbreaks, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor, and Joelle Carter. He must also contend with Laura's new boyfriend, a smarmy Tim Robbins, and has a temporary distraction with Lisa Bonet.

Cusack and his co-screenwriters, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, and Scott Rosenberg, (that's 3/4 of the team that wrote Grosse Pointe Blank) create an incredibly hip screenplay, with wonderful bits of wit sprinkled in and around the old-fashioned boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl plot. The record store is a great gimmick, and it allows for characters to pass the time discussing music, or, more importantly, using the music as a metaphor for what's going on in the plot.

In one scene, a recently dumped Rob sits at the counter, looking close to dead. A customer asks, "do you have soul?" Cusack just stares for a moment and replies, "well, that depends." In another scene, Rob uses a discussion of the movie Evil Dead II (1987) in order to bring to light something his girlfriend has told him.

The boy-meets-girl plot is given a slightly new twist as well. Rob re-visits his top five ex-girlfriends in order to throw perspective on his new situation. But even after we're sure that he and Laura are going to get back together, a monkey-wrench is thrown in the works in the form of an attractive music columnist (Natasha Gregson Wagner). It was the 11th hour and I honestly didn't know what was going to happen.

In Grosse Pointe Blank, Cusack used the occasion of a 10 year high school reunion to pepper the soundtrack with great 80's songs. He's done it again here, using the record store as a base and carefully selecting great pop songs to give the movie a singular ambiance. During a busy day in the store, he makes a bet with his co-workers that he can sell five copies of a certain CD. He puts on a song called "Dry the Rain" by the Beta Band. The song is so incredibly groovy that customers all begin to bob and weave to its catchy rhythms. Plotwise, the scene is pointless, but it brings a whole new level of connection to the movie.

High Fidelity is directed by Stephen Frears, who worked with Cusack before on The Grifters (1990). However, the real "auteur" of High Fidelity is Cusack himself. The proof is that High Fidelity has more in common with Grosse Pointe Blank than with The Grifters. Frears is around more as a patron saint or a shepherd. With such a powerful presence, will Cusack one day write and direct his own films? I hope so.

High Fidelity is a celebration of pop culture, but like Quentin Tarantino's films, it also comments on how pop culture has become part of the fabric of our lives, especially for those of us in Cusack's age group. In that way, it's as effective as Grosse Pointe Blank was, but without the violence. I can't say for sure if it's a "great" film or a "timeless" film, but I really loved it and will most likely want to see it again.

DVD Details: Touchstone's DVD comes with "conversations" with Cusack and Frears, which is really just one long interview broken up into soundbites. Other extras include deteled scenes and a trailer.

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