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Movie Review: 'High Fidelity'

'High Fidelity' is a romantic comedy for the record-obsessed

Friday, March 31, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer


After enough bad movies to (almost) fill a Worst Movies of 2000 roster comes one worth recommending -- a romantic comedy that celebrates love, compulsive list-making, vinyl and, always, music. If even half of the songs in the film make it onto the soundtrack, it should be a killer.

'High Fidelity'

Rating: R for sex and language

Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle

Director: Stephen Frears

Critics call: 3 stars

Cusack: On the record


Interesting actors, from Tim Robbins and Catherine Zeta-Jones to Joan Cusack, Sara Gilbert and Natasha Gregson Wagner pop up in small roles, and a musical superstar has a cameo that is as surprising as it is impressive.

"High Fidelity," based on the 1995 Nick Hornby novel of the same name, stars the always adaptable John Cusack as Rob Gordon, a former disc jockey and owner of a Chicago record store called Championship Vinyl. Thirtysomething Rob is obsessed with music, which dominates his life and his apartment, jammed with rows of albums neatly and obsessively filed.

As the movie opens, his girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) is lugging her belongings out the door of their apartment and that inspires Rob to share, by talking to the camera, his top five breakups of all time.

His No. 1 split was with a girl named Alison, and their relationship lasted for all of six hours. Two hours after school each day for three days, until on the fourth day her young lips suddenly were locked with another's. Although he says he would like to think his relationships are more sophisticated, all of his romantic tales are scrambled versions of that story.

As Rob attempts to figure out what went wrong in his early relationships, he and Laura keep bumping into each other -- even as Rob becomes mesmerized by an exotic club singer (Lisa Bonet) and Laura finds comfort elsewhere, too. A sobering event and a rare lapse into adulthood force the juvenile and self-centered Rob to rethink the patterns of his life.

The best chemistry of the movie is not necessarily between Rob and Laura but among Rob and the employees he dubs the "musical moron twins": acid-tongued, paunchy Barry (Jack Black), perpetually clad in too-tight T-shirts, and quiet, sweet Dick (Todd Louiso). Black, who played one of the ventriloquist trainees in "Cradle Will Rock," looks like he should be working in an album or comic book shop and steals virtually every scene in which he appears.

A secondary pleasure comes in the marriage of the screen action with the music. A high school romance is recalled with "Crimson and Clover." Rob rejoices in a bit of good news as Queen's "We Are the Champions" blares. It's no less effective here than in a hockey arena. Five dozen tunes from artists as diverse as Elton John, Katrina and the Waves, Bob Dylan, Liz Phair and Fishbone serve as an audio undertow, pulling us along.

The novel "High Fidelity" was set in London, but Hornby supposedly told Cusack, "My book's about a lot more than geographics." Especially when the movie rights are being dangled before a first-time novelist, even one who sold 300,000 copies in Britain. The story may have been moved across the pond, but Rob is frequently caught in the drenching rain -- without umbrella, hat or coat.

Cusack, last seen as Nelson Rockefeller in "Cradle Will Rock" and a poor puppeteer/filing clerk/brain barterer in "Being John Malkovich," uses his boyish looks to good advantage. He is that rare actor who can play himself as a high school student.

Playing opposite him is Hjejle, a native of Denmark who looks like a blonder, softer, more fragile version of Patricia Arquette. Every now and then you get the sense that English may not have been her first language.

Some of Laura's actions seem improbable or inexplicable, as if entire plot points were filmed and left in the editing room -- such as how she hooked up with another man. In that regard, "High Fidelity" doesn't have perfect pitch. But in a year with a lot of B-side versions of movies, you may want to put his one in your personal rotation.

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