dr. stephen frears
str. john cusack, jack black, tim robbins and THE BOSS...
The first question I asked myself upon leaving the theatre after having this god awful cinematic experience was- why the hell does everybody like this film? Okay, so America Rolling Stone's Peter Travers thought it was pure genius. But it doesn't take much effort to realise that the sum total of all Travers "gee this movie is yet another definitive statement about pop culture and the universe" pull-quotes slapped on the back of mediocre video sleeves amount to the critical works of our very own pop culture visionary- Molly Meldrum. Men who get paid to rant about how great-great-great every new release is and what big stars these people are gonna be and you've just gotta see the film/buy the record now-now-now and by the way we drink Pepsi when staying at the Sheraton Hotel wearing our Calvin's, well, these are the people who fool honest gen-x folk like myself into seeing movies like High Fidelity.
But let's just assume we all have a tad of autonomy from pop culture fascism, leave those guys out of this for a moment, and try and figure out why this dreary and inconsistent babble of a film with all it's forced comedy and lack of endearing characters has managed to pull in a string of three and four star reviews from the most respected critics in the pop-culture commentary sphere. Wherever the hell that's orbiting these days.
What's wrong with this film?
It's essentially about a guy who works in a record store, has trouble with his love life, and kinda sorta comes of age while spouting musical references left, right and centre. It's all based on a best selling book. So far, so good.
However. The film's main man, Rob Gordon, is played by John Cusack with a level of sleaziness and social awkwardness that is tolerable only until he tells us that he has cheated on his girlfriend. At that point, he lost all of my- and every female in the audience?s- sympathy, and his vaguely amusing romantic disasters became nothing more than snippets from the life of a ridiculously selfish, self centred and immature no-hoper whose only aspiration seemed to be to fuck up his own relationships and whine about it. To the camera. For two fucking hours.
So, Rob has a crisis with his live-in girlfriend, Laura, who leaves him in part because he still carries on like a fifteen year old. Rob muses about his disastrous past relationships. This offers some scope for amusement, yes? Nuh-uh.
Rob's "top five all time worst break up" flashbacks are so flat and predictable that you will barely crack a smile. But you will finally know for sure that Catherine Zeta Jones married that old Douglas bastard for money when you see just how well her career is going in a cameo as Rob's pretentious JAP ex-girlfriend.
And then comes the messily depicted mid-thirties crisis when Rob seeks out ll his exes to ask them why they left him. By now, I could pretty much already tell. Rob trudges through the sewer of his past loves trying to heighten his self esteem by putting down the women who were emotionally unstable enough to date him in the first place, Laura nurses a broken heart from having to part from this terminally teenage pop-snob. Lord knows why. After Rob laughs off the date rape experienced by one of his exes because he just soooo glad it was actually he who left her, I'm thinking, this guy doesn't deserve to be happy.
And Rob keeps asking the audience- why am I so terminally rejected?
Failing in feeling all that much better about himself despite torturing his exes and fucking a sassy up-and-coming rock star, Rob flips his lid when he finds Laura is sleeping with a new guy (despite the fact that Rob not only did the same thing twice, but did it once while they were still together). So he starts stalking her. I wouldn't be as giving as our lost lamb Laura is here- I'd be getting me an AVO and cutting this pasty freak out of my life for good. Why anyone puts up with the moody bastard is a persistent mystery.
One of the major faults in this film is that it's location was moved from London (as it was originally in the book) to Chicago. High Fidelity really should have been a British movie. The humour, the characters, the pacing- British, British, British. Substitute cockney smart asses and English whingers for fat, loud mouth Americans (record store clerk Barry doing his best Chris Farley impersonation) and anorexic, tweaked out post-smack-psychosis Americans (Dick the token funny freak, record store clerk number two) and one big American loser at the centre of it all (Cusack as Rob, a role custom built for a lanky English guy, played by a chunky Noo Yawker). What you get is a Hollywood make over of a British text that is a more of a big wash out than a glitter-and-stars clean up. The characters are caricatures, the laughs are thin, the record stores scenes are repetitive and you wish all these aimless gen-x guys would just shut the hell up. As a whiny British bastard, Rob would have worked. As John Cusack huffing and puffing through what is a waste of great dialogue, Rob is repugnant.
Another major problem here is that the humour fails. The movie just isn't funny. Mostly because, a great proportion of the comical material is delivered in the form of anecdotes spoken directly to us by Cusack. He just doesn't have the charisma or comic ability to pull it off. Tim Robbins' cameo as Laura's new love interest- a new age, vegetarian Fabio- is probably the most amusing it gets, and even there you can see the jokes coming from a mile away. There are a few bits and pieces that warrant a chuckle, but sadly enough, the humorous eye-candy factor is higher in fluffy-pap films like Empire Records.
The music was my biggest peeve- the sweeping, obvious ballads moving in when Rob is feeling upset about not getting attention for two minutes from his tortured girlfriend (he even has a tantrum at her father's funeral), or the poppy classics slapped onto his little successes, I assume were meant to be ironic and amusing. They weren't.
But, all that said, there are moments. The "all time favourite top five" this-and-that's constantly listed by the characters and the "art of making a compilation tape" are high points. The script is full of excellent observations about gen-x's obsession with music and pop-culture as identity defining statements, and the snobbism associated with fetishist consumerism and fanaticism. Almost everyone in the film knows about, and hunts for, collectible records. Almost everybody in the film is heavily defensive of their musical tastes and collections. Almost everyone in the audience left the cinema debating what their top fives were, and pointing out what records in Rob's store they owned. The Richard Hell 12 inch stuck to the store wall was the only moment I really savoured in the film. I've been trying to get one of those forever.
Why does everyone like this film? Bad direction aside, it?s a true homage to the mediocre excesses of the 15 to 35 age bracket, otherwise known as gen x,who have collectively perverted our primordial hunter/gatherer urges into record collecting, music listening, film watching and self indulgent pop trash favouritism. High Fidelity is ultimately about the often ridiculous excesses of the sub-cultural elitism enjoyed by what is essentially a generation of hack film, music and arts critics. Everybody seems to posses knowledge of the definitive social statements that solidify our TV-and-Radio snippet encrusted world. And everybody has way too much to say about it. Especially Peter Travers.
Sadly though, it's fairly obvious that such modern sentiments are best expressed in the novel on which this film was based. The film itself adds nothing to them, and in fact, often takes away from their poignancy. And there is almost nothing worse than a film that doesn't reach it's potential.
Besides the very accurate portrayal of our generation's dependence on personal pop cultures references-which is admittedly extremely cool- High Fidelity dies a slow and painful death. This movie wanted to be a classic rock record- timeless, absolute and a real talking point. What it wound up being is a Guns 'n' Roses album- it has it's moments, at it's core its kinda good, but ultimately, it's so cheesy that no self respecting gen x music connoisseur could possibly have it on their "top five all time favourites"
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