Rom-Com Review: "High Fidelity"

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Rob, a record store owner and compulsive list maker, recounts his top five breakups, including the one in progress. Starring John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Jack Black and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
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Rating: R
Length: 113 minutes
Release Date: March 31, 2000
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Genre: Comedy / Drama / Music

Few comedies have examined the complications and woes of the male life like "High Fidelity" has, combining a series of failed relationships with the main character's love of music to create a charming, humorous production. The story follows the life of Rob, a record store owner who attempts to rethink his past amidst a current break-up. In the company of his two wacky employees, the self-proclaimed music geek begins to realize what it truly means to grow up. With top-notch acting and a satisfying blend of wit and emotion, this film is as thoughtful as it is clever.

The film opens with Rob (John Cusack) asking, "What came first, the misery or the music?" Rob is the owner of Championship Vinyl, a small record store. His two quirky employees Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso) are music lovers who seem to have a song for every occasion. Barry is a loudmouthed riot while Barry is a quieter music snob, and both have a huge sense of humor. Rob, on the other hand, is passionate but thoughtful. Rob has dubbed his staff the Musical Moron Twins for their vast knowledge of everything related to music and their compulsory need to mock their ignorant customers.

In the film, Rob and his employees love generating "top 5" music lists for every occasion. Just coming off his latest breakup, Rob creates a list for himself, telling the story of his top five break-ups. His most recent split is with a lawyer named Laura (Iben Hjejle), and he is determined to understand why his relationships keep going sour. From the sexy Charlie (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to a rebound fling with Sarah (Lili Taylor), Cusack's past love interests have spanned nearly every genre of women – and music.

Throughout the musings about Rob's top five break-ups, the record store crew continues to go about their daily business. Marie De Salle (Lisa Bonet), a mutual friend of Rob and Laura, injects occasional common sense into the lovelorn man's ponderings. The trio also encounter shoplifting skaters Justin (Ben Carr) and Vince (Chris Rehmann), who they initially despise. However, when Rob listens to a song they recorded, he realizes that the delinquents have some serious untapped potential. The climax of Rob's journey of self-discovery comes when he discovers that Laura's father has passed away, and he attends the funeral. This is when it all comes together, and Rob finally figures out what his problem has been all along.

"High Fidelity" is one of the most hilarious comedies of early 2000s, utilizing tongue-in-cheek humor that explores every realm of male life, from hobbies and interests to love and loss. The film is based on a book of the same name, and although the original story takes place in London, the Chicago setting feels like the perfect stage for the events of the film. The humor is never over-the-top in its delivery, allowing audiences to enjoy every laugh without the feeling that filmmakers are forcing the jokes. Music fans are sure to love the numerous music-related jokes and references, but even viewers who are oblivious to the music scene can find plenty of relatable humor in this flick.

The film is well-paced, with every event feeling like a natural consequence of the film. Even the gimmicks that could come off as cheesy or cliché, such as Rob's breaking of the fourth wall when talking about his girlfriends, always seem to work in a way that lets the story roll along smoothly. The stakes are never too high, and even the climactic scenes are relatively tame. This works in the film's favor as it helps the audience to feel more in touch with the plot and characters.

John Cusack shines under the spotlight during every minute of Rob's story, convincingly playing an average guy with hidden troubles and interests. He is not overly quirky or charming in this role, instead portraying each emotion with realistic subtlety. Jack Black is just as impressive in his supporting role, dishing out some of the best jokes of the film. Despite his low-key performance, Todd Louiso is perfectly believable as the soft-spoken funny guy. Iben Hjejle is stunning as usual in her role, and the rest of the cast carries the film surprisingly well.

"High Fidelity" is a clever, low-key comedy that is sure to keep viewers laughing at every turn. It is also a remarkably thoughtful film, examining themes such as commitment, love and growing up. This is the perfect film for men, music lovers or anyone who loves a good John Cusack film.