Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday December 3, 2019 


When his girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) dumps him, Rob (John Cusack), the thirty-ish owner of a record store specialising in vinyl and driven by obsessive attention to pop detail, finds himself going through a crisis of self confidence. Laura was not the first to leave him. His half-staff (and half hangers-on) Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black), provide some distractions but unsure of what he wants out of life, Rob decides to look up the women from the five most significant relationships of his past to find out from each woman why they dumped him. But he gets a few pleasant surprises and Laura's lingering scent is in his soul. As he discovers, he has to make some big decisions himself if he wants relationships to work.

"It has 57 songs credited, which should give you some idea of the importance of the soundtrack. As the title implies, High Fidelity is thematically driven by music; in other words, music matters to the characters, and music defines them in some way. After all, for much of this century, music has been an artform consumed by the masses, and each popular category has defined a generation. Except of course pop music, which has defined several recent generations, in its variety of ways - some of which have ended up in this film as the social background to Rob Gordon's miserable love life. Adapted from the novel with liberal, expansive wads of narrative given to John Cusack as a device to speak to us directly, High Fidelity obviously has 'a voice'. And it's a welcome voice; John Cusack delivers a completely normally paranoid young male whose self-comprehension drips but slowly from the tap of his insecure self. And he never grates or craves too much sympathy, while recognising our intelligence. Half of this is the script, but the other half is the performance. While High Fidelity is a romantic comedy, it is the manner of its telling that sets it apart - and perhaps explains its appearance on festival lists. The oddly shaped triangle of the three central male characters (Rob, Dick, Barry) provides an amusement park in human variety where the evolutionary gene has been spliced from vinyl. And the failures of Rob's affairs are revealed in cleverly segmented episodes so we are forever in a sort of dramatic foreplay mood. The tension is light but continuous, the observations that make people unique yet recognisable are effective, and it never slips into anything resembling schmaltz. And for me, perhaps its greatest achievement is the film's constant reminder of the importance of context. Everything is relative, as Albert once said, and relationships more so. A terrific script, zinging performances all round and Frears' inspired direction make High Fidelity high value cinema. It tells a lot about us people. Go and hear this movie."
Andrew L. Urban

"High Fidelity is one of those quirky films that kinda grows on you. The ridiculous, the entertaining, the humorous and the unexpected intertwine, to form a witty, laid-back story set on a platform where music holds the aces. From the opening credits, when black vinyl spins round and around, we enter a world where John Cusack's compulsive and obsessive Rob is spinning just as wildly on the turntable of life. And he can't get off. Music and misery. Misery and music. Just like Jack Nicholson's character in As Good As It Gets, John Cusack's Rob is a neurotic mess: his obsession is about his relationships. The plot develops so organically that it's easy to just get deeper and deeper in this crazy world, where in fact, surprise surprise, the characters are like people we know. Cusack is good at these hang-dog roles: his appearance, his demeanour and his delivery are crisp, dry and understated. And director Stephen Frears has successfully surrounded him with a wonderful cast of unlikely characters whose colours inhabit the mood like a psychedelic record sleeve. Jack Black and Todd Louiso are a great comic team: Black is irresistible as a maniac you would least like to encounter in a music shop. These are the guys who will only sell you the music you want, if they like you. The humour is black, slapstick and at times just straight out stupid, while the one-liners sort of slip by like furniture falling off a passing truck. There are plenty of music gags, and we are treated to cameos by The Boss (Bruce Springsteen), Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tim Robbins. If we look closely, we can probably see plenty of ourselves in these characters. But this isn't a story with a message. High Fidelity is plain and simple entertainment – a good chuckle for a laid-back trip into the bizarre."
Louise Keller

"As a fan of Nick Hornby's novel the first question when approaching the film adaptation is how well it will work with the locale shifted from London to Chicago. In the skilful hands of director Stephen Frears and co-producer/co-screenwriter and star John Cusack the answer is exceptionally well. The novel to which every single adult male in the western world is likely to relat, has been brought to the screen with Hornby's painfully funny and truthful insights into the male condition intact. Cusack's direct speech to camera works wonderfully as takes us on a guided tour of loveable loser Rob Gordon, his girlfriends and the two geeky music obsessives Dick and Barry for whom working at Championship Vinyl not just a job but a life statement. Frears finds the perfect balance of humour and pathos as Cusack digs up old girlfriends to try and work out where he's gone wrong. In the process we're treated to delightful cameos from Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta Jones, Lisa Bonet (missing in action since Angel Heart, it seems), Joan Cusack and Danish actress Iben Hjejle as the friends, past lovers and possible future loves of the sweet but incurable Rob. High Fidelity succeeds because it taps deep into the male psyche with an emotional honesty that anchors the drama and prevents it from treating its characters, Dick and Barry included, as caricatures. The music is top-notch as well, blasting off with The 13th Floor Elevators garage punk classic "You're Gonna Miss Me" and following up with a fine selection which any exponent of tape compilations would be proud of. And be honest, boys, isn't that most of us??"
Richard Kuipers

Email this article

HEAR Andrew L. Urban & Louise Keller talk about the film in Real Audio.

Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0




CAST: John Cusack, Jack Black, Todd Louiso, Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sara Gilbert, Lili Taylor, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins - and Bruce Springsteen as himself.
PRODUCERS: Tim Bevan, Rudd Simmons

DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears

SCRIPT: D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack, Scott Rosenberg (based on the novel by Nick Hornby)


EDITOR: Mick Audsley

MUSIC: Carter Burwell, Howard Shore & song by Elton John

PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Chapman, Thérèse DePrez

RUNNING TIME: 113 mins

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista International


VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista Home Video

VIDEO RELEASE: March 14, 2001

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2019