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High Fidelity

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: High Fidelity

Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle
Director: Stephen Frears
Rated: R
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: March 2000
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, Beverly D'Angelo, Todd Louiso, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, Sara Gilbert, Harold Ramis

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Go to movies like "Boiler Room," "American Psycho," and "Keeping the Faith" and you get the impression that all twenty-somethings in America have taken jobs with important corporate firms or have become leaders in fields like religion and law. But walk the streets of any city and you'll see a landscape dotted with hundreds, maybe thousands of small stores, each catering to specific needs of the citizens who patronize them and who may never see the inside chambers of huge establishments. Because these stores are operated by people who are either too independent to work for others, or who lacking specific types of education, or who are fairly new to the country, you are likely to fund proprietors and their associates who are quirky, who have personalities different from those who wear pin-striped suits, are addicted to cell phones, and may not give much of a damn about the concerns of their supervisors.

"High Fidelity" is a whimsical film that captures the temperament of some of these small retail people, knowledgeable about their product, often so passionate about what they sell that they may prefer discussing their commodity with their customers to taking their money. The movie is helmed by British director Stephen Frears with loving attention to its principal character and is based on a popular cult novel published in the UK in 1995 by Nick Hornby. The story focuses on an attractive fellow, Rob Gordon (John Cusack), who frequently breaks away from his exchanges with lovers, customers, and fellow workers to talk directly to the camera, as though he were performing in a Shakespearean play. You may get impression--as I did--that Rob's role could not have been better cast; that no one other than John Cusack could have pulled off Rob's idiosyncratic nature as a man of about thirty who obsesses so regularly about his past loves that he fails to pay sufficient concern for the women who rightfully demand his attention. =

Effectively, with quiet humor and restrained command, director Frears guides Cusack into a series delicate recollections from the times he tries to make out at school parties through his more grounded affairs with a succession of good-looking women. The film opens on Rob and his current live-in woman, Laura (Iben Hjejle), just as Laura is packed up, moving out, and ending her liaison with Rob.

In a meandering way that could alienate a young audience accustomed to MTV, action pictures, and broad comedy, "High Fidelity" takes us inside Rob's failing record business in one of Chicago's scruffy, arty neighborhoods, Seamus McGarvey's camera content to spend a good deal of time among the retro product found in abundance throughout the store. Rob specializes in vinyl records of pop music exclusively, his two workers, Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black) happy to spend twice the time therein than they were hired to do. Frears milks a good deal of the comedy from these two characters who are so opposite in temperament (Dick is a scholarly introvert while Barry is feisty and opinionated) that we wonder how they get along so well. =

While Dick quietly discusses the music with the relatively few customers--including a band of hip, neighborhood skateboarders who occasionally shovel material surreptitiously under the shirts and pants--Barry elects to insult the squares. In the movie's most mirthful exchange, Barry tells a middle-aged guy who wants to buy "I Just Called to Say I Love You" where to get off with such sugary pap, suggesting, "Do you even know your daughter?"

This lovely comedy never overstays its welcome, getting blustery on only one occasion as Rob fantasies beating the hell out of his lost love's current beau, Ian (Tim Robbins), an unctuous, pony-tailed professional in the field of conflict resolution whose ears are pierced and decorated with three rings. As Rob's parade of lovers and near-liaisons, Frears parades a group of attractive women such as Marie DeSalle (Lisa Bonet), who delivers in the vocal department, and Penny (Joelle Carter). Most refreshing of all is Rob's favorite, the conflicted Laura, played by a woman known to aficionados of foreign films for her role as a hooker in the Danish movie "Mifune" of Soren Kragh-Jacobsen. The relationship between Laura and Rob is not entirely resolved by the story's conclusion, but we wish them the best.

(C) 2000 by Harvey Karten,

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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