On one hand John Cusack has played the lovelorn sad sack one too many times in his screen career, but on the other he does it better than anyone. Whether it’s in Say Anything, Better Off Dead, or in Director Stephen Frears’s 2000 dramatic comedy High Fidelity, which feels like the natural endpoint in Cusack’s heartbreak legacy. Bringing Cusack back to the role of a guy mourning the relationship he let slip away, High Fidelity gives us the story of your average guy who wants desperately to absolve himself for his romantic failures, only to find it difficult as he faces up to the reality of his most memorable relationships. Surrounded with a strong supporting cast of Todd Louiso, Jack Black, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, and Tim Robbins, Cusack gives a solid performance that mostly manages to cover up the shortcomings of a melodramatic script.
Rob Gordon (Cusack) has a complex relationship with lists; they dictate the way he interacts with music, love, and life. After Laura (Iben Hjejle), his girlfriend of a few years, leaves him for a long-haired mediator (Tim Robbins), Rob has something of a meltdown and starts puzzling through past relationships to figure out why they’ve all failed. Compiling a list of his top five most devastating break-ups, he contacts each one in the hopes that they’ll shed some light on a common thread to the failure. And they do: him. Years of selectively remembering specific things from each relationship have blinded him to the basic truths that each one would have taught him, leaving him to brood in his music store alongside his two employees (Louiso, Black) who just won’t leave him alone. Can he get Laura back? Does he even want her back? Would he even know if he did or if he didn’t?
High Fidelity breaks the fourth wall right from the get-go, and so we spend a good portion of the film inside Rob’s head, although we’re seldom shown the entire truth until the character is backed into a corner. It’s like having a hostile witness on the stand who only tells you what he did wrong once everyone around him has left him no other way out. In many films that device is used as a way to throw twists into a plot, but in this case it’s the very means by which the plot advances in any way at all. Each revelation about Rob’s past faults and current foibles let us and him realize exactly how selfish of a boyfriend he’d been to Laura, and others, and take the necessary steps to grow.
The script doesn’t always handle this progress well, sometimes realizing it has nothing much to do or say for one of his exes and just shuffling along, and at other times it doesn’t just let it be and conversations can feel a bit forced (like any scene with Joan Cusack), but having John Cusack, a man who’s probably portrayed the heartbroken more than any other actor, in the driver’s seat helps keep the narration shtick feeling honest instead of like a cheap way to tell a story. In an odd way his past roles as a miserable lovesick teen give his time as Rob Gordon a kind of credibility that can’t be created over the span of just one film. It’s the candid moments of Cusack talking to the screen about music and how it can affect a man that make High Fidelity worth watching at all.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Deleted scenes and interviews with John Cusack and Director Stephen Frears are the only extras.
"High Fidelity" is on sale August 7, 2012 and is rated R. Comedy, Drama. Directed by Stephen Frears. Written by Nick Hornby (novel), D.V. DeVincentis (screenplay). Starring Catherine Zeta Jones, Jack Black, Joan Cusack, John Cusack, Tim Robbins, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso.