One of the nice things about living in the kinda, sorta, quasi, close to the real thing city type metro area of Raleigh is that we do have enough independent theaters in which we get to see some fun stuff roll through. And when I saw that High Fidelity (one of my wife’s and Sarah’s favorite movies and a movie I’ve never seen), was playing on the big screen as part of a “music in movies” series at a local joint, I had to jump on it. So, we’re making High Fidelity the next installment of Project M.
As much fun as it is to watch a great movie on DVD with friends at home, is there anything more fun than getting to go to a theater to watch an old, favorite film with a bunch of others who love it, too? I had never seen High Fidelity and the move in the theater, both before and during the movie, was one of excited anticipation. People were laughing extra heartily, with a sense of familiarity and comfort, at their favorite parts. It was like being at any other event where people are really, really into something and allowing yourself to roll with the vibe even if you’re not in on things yet. I love that kind of stuff.
Most people who are into movies are at least somewhat familiar with what I’ll call The Power of Cusack. It’s that undefinable charm, quirkiness, and every man-ness that Sir Cusack possesses that can charm the pants off (mostly women) just about anybody. High Fidelity benefits from bucketfuls of the Power of Cusack. Honestly, the whole movie depends on it, because other than Cusack’s Rob Gordon character, the truth is that there’s not really another even remotely three dimensional character to be found. But it ends up not mattering, because the usually pretentious and distracting plot device of having the main character speak directly to the audience and the camera, in the hands of The Power of Cusack, works like a charm.
The basic plot (based on the Nick Hornby book), of course, is the old standby young hipster not completely sure where he wants to go in life loses girl, which kicks off a series of encounters with exes that makes him realize that his “ideas” of the perfect woman are just that, ideas, and not based in reality. It all works out in the end, but it’s the process of getting there that is the core of the movie. Oh, and by the way, the Rob Gordon character owns a record store and he spends his days hanging out with Jack Black (in one of Black’s first breakthrough roles) and a mousy guy talking about arcane music trivia. These sections of the movie, I thought, were handled brilliantly. There was a little something for everyone during these conversations (for my wife, it was the Silos reference; for me, Stereolab).
One of the things Rob does is track down several of his exes. Every single one of these exes turns out to be over the top character sketches that provide some wink, wink “we’ve all been there” chuckles. Rob explains it all directly to the audience as he goes along, employing The Power of Cusack to distract you from how ridiculous almost all of the women in the film are made to look, even while providing some of those chuckles along the way. Even Rob’s girlfriend, Laura, in choosing her “rebound guy”, chooses a cartoon character. Of course, it’s the funniest cartoon character in the film, a new age, pony tail wearing Tim Robbins. Cusack loathes Robbins and tortures himself with nightmares of Robbins sexing up his woman. There’s another awesome dream moment involving Bruce Springsteen where the Boss gives Cusack some quick life lessons while gently strumming his guitar.
One of the fun things about watching High Fidelity for the first time is all the “oh, I don’t know she (or he) was in this” moments. Besides Jack Black and Robbins, there’s Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lisa Bonet, Lili Taylor, Joan Cusack, Natasha Gregson Wagner, and Sarah Gilbert, among others. And Iben Hjejle as Cusack’s girlfriend, Laura, is fine. Again, though, it’s Cusack’s movie. Albeit an odd movie in some ways. It’s actually pretty mean and dismissive toward women in sections. It’s kind of hard to ignore the abortion plot twist, which is handled in what could be interpreted as either a refreshingly matter of fact way, or as actually pretty flippant and callous. As Cusack meets up with his exes, they’re all so over the top that they’re not really very believable. And the main reason Laura leaves Rob is that she thinks he has no direction. But, sure Rob hangs out in a record store all day, but he owns the place. And the “direction” he finds is staying in the business he’s already in and producing a record by some teenage skate punks.
So, it’s the thinnest of plots, it doesn’t really feel all that real in a lot of places, and it’s kind of cartoonish. But you still walk out feeling like there’s something kind of perceptive, and definitely endearing, about it. It’s funny in a kind of comforting way. And the best thing is that it’s a chick flick laced with a ton of guy conversations and moments. Don’t think about it too much, and The Power of Cusack will pull you in like a Death Star tracking laser (in a good way).