A comedy about fear of commitment, hating your job, falling in love, and other pop favorites.
High Fidelity is the best film of 2000 so far. There, I said it. This movie, based on the cult novel of the same name by Nick Hornby, is likewise destined for cult DVD status, much in the same way that all those 1980s youth comedies retained a shelf life through HBO and home video, played over and over again during those pimply-faced sleepovers of yore and the subsequent nostalgia trips of today. Indeed, High Fidelity can be seen as a logical chronological continuation of those very teenage characters from the John Hughes-ian film universe. They graduated high school around the time when Bush took over for Reagan, finished college just as grunge went mainstream, and finally entered the "real world" and began settling down into serious relationships, actually thinking about things like the future, job stability, and marriage. A full decade and some change after appearing in countless number of said films, John Cusack (Sixteen Candles, Better Off Dead, Say Anything, Being John Malkovich) returns to his romantic roots, re-teaming with director Stephen Frears (The Grifters), playing a Chicago record store owner unlucky in love and life, and reflecting on his failed relationships, in High Fidelity.
Facts of the Case
John Cusack stars as Rob Gordon, an underachieving vinyl aficionado who enjoys making "top 5" pop cultural lists with the two musically elitist clerks that work in his record shop, Dick (Todd Louiso—8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, The Rock, Jerry Maguire) and Barry (Jack Black—Jesus' Son, Bongwater, Mars Attacks!). He has reached that comfortable plateau in life, where everything is predictably fine, until his girlfriend of several years, Laura (newcomer Iben Hjejle), an ambitious young lawyer, decides that she wants more adventure and leaves him for their energetic upstairs neighbor Ian (Tim Robbins—The Player, Jacob's Ladder, Bob Roberts). This breakup compels Rob to re-examine his past "top 5" failed attempts at relationships by meeting up with past girlfriends, including Sarah (Lili Taylor—The Haunting, Ransom, I Shot Andy Warhol), Charlie (Catherine Zeta-Jones—The Haunting, Entrapment, The Mask of Zorro), and Penny (Joelle Carter—Swimming, It Had To Be You). Will this gained insight allow him to salvage his relationship with Laura, or will it just plunge him into a deeper, darker malaise of melancholia, dooming him to a life of permanent bachelorhood?
High Fidelity pays particularly astute attention to the typical life of the aging male GenX-er in this millennial time, nailing even the most predictable details of life, like those cruel, nagging phone conversations between mom and son, with droll, sagacious charm. From its observant takes on late twenty-something romance, to its perfect recreation of the hardcore record store set and music scene, High Fidelity does just about everything right. For anyone who has ever spent time rummaging around these vinyl bargain basement bins and interacting with the denizens within (and I've regularly wasted time at three such "legendary" places-Jerry's Records in Oakland, PA on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, Everybody's Records in Cincinnati, OH, and Wazoo Records in Ann Arbor, MI), this will be a particular treat. There are many wonderfully original, touchingly funny scenes, including a particularly fresh take on methods of album organization that may just inspire some DVD "geeks" out there to re-categorize their collection accordingly (you know who you are).
The comedy works because its makers know that to have truly successful humorous situations, you must start by creating real characters that the audience can identify with, or come to care about on some emotional level. High Fidelity finds that delicate balance between hilarity and dramatic resonance, without ever once resorting to character caricaturization or going over the top in its depiction of life situations.
Buena Vista's DVD release of High Fidelity is an anamorphic transfer, presented in its original theatrical ration of 1.85:1. Picture quality is good-to-excellent, which is really just what you should expect from a film that was released to theaters only earlier this year. The colors are sharp and the solid transfer really accentuates the unmistakable architecture of downtown Chicago often shown in the background of key scenes, giving the film a very gritty, urban feel that totally works with this material. Black levels in the various nighttime and club sequences are generally good, and the flesh tones are "natural" and non-intrusive.
The sound mix is Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Since this is largely a dialogue-driven film, your rear speakers will not get much of a workout. However, the surrounds are used rather nicely in several outdoor rainstorm sequences, and also in scenes set within the club, where superbly loud music from The Chemical Brothers makes your subwoofers thump and your rump shake and roll. Scene-stealing Jack Black's climactic rendition of Marvin Gaye's classic "Let's Get It On," in particular, fantastically fills the soundscape of your home theater setup. Overall, the movie sounds great and the conversations are crisp and easy to audibly understand; no muffled mix here.
While there are not many extras included on the disc, they are of very good quality. There are two sets of interviews-one with John Cusack, the other with Stephen Frears-and they are further broken down into titled subsections, with each segment a few minutes long. These little nuggets shed some light on what the participants were trying to accomplish in adapting this material for the big screen. Although short in length, the interview vignettes are laced with production stills, film clips, and on-set shots, and are really nicely produced and uniformly informative for fans of the film.
Also included are nine deleted scenes, which are thankfully not presented in rough-cut footage form. For the most part, these are good scenes that would have fit just nicely into the film proper (and feature cutting-room floor cameos by Beverly D'Angelo and Harold Ramis) but were likely cut due to time constraints and pacing concerns. Finally, the theatrical trailer is presented in full screen format, but it's really nothing special, and actually improperly conveys the whole tone of the movie. Perhaps this is a contributing factor as to why audiences unfairly stayed away in droves from High Fidelity during its original release.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I will admit that this film may not be for everyone. At the risk of sounding like an ageist, you really must be of a certain age demographic for this movie to fully speak to you, I think. That's not to say that everyone cannot enjoy this wonderful film, because its storyline and performances will have universal appeal, but just like my parents do not "get" the charms and realities of, say, Clerks, not everyone will appreciate the quirks and truths of High Fidelity. Fair enough.
Cusack's irregular direct-to-camera chats may also become cloyingly tiresome to some audience members who would rather see the action and story unfold in a more linear fashion rather than constant first-person commentary. I found these interludes refreshing and insightful and true to its novel roots, but I'll concede that some may be put off by this narrative style.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in closing, here are the top 5 reasons you need to add High Fidelity to your DVD library:
5. It features a top-notch likable cast including John Cusack and the
hilarious Jack Black.
High Fidelity is fully acquitted of all charges and the prosecuting attorney is verbally reprimanded for wasting the court's time on such an obvious case as this, where the film's greatness is already a matter of public record. Anyone in disagreement is ordered to watch this film nightly for the next month. Court is dismissed.
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