"It's not so Fucking Bad!"
"High Fidelity" is a pretty good movie, but it can't
escape the foul odor of being too cool and trying too hard to
co-opt a culture. It pissed me off how a lot of music I love
was abused. Hollywood has no concept that the fans of this music
are not cool, they're a bunch of miserable fucks with lousy jobs
and little care about what Hollywood thinks of them. But I bet
the soundtrack record will sell tons of copies to the same assholes
who got into surf guitar for a week or so after "Pulp Fiction".
In this plot-thin comedy, John Cusack owns Championship Vinyl,
an independent record store. His business struggles, so does
his love life. See, he is an asshole, an exaggeration of what
most men know in their hearts they are: self-involved and insecure
pricks doomed to be kicked in the head by girls. Inexplicably,
he has had a string of totally hot girlfriends like Catherine
Zeta-Jones and Iben Hjejle, but he's too afraid of rejection
to build a relationship.
All guys without goatees know about that shit. The guys with
goatees are too fucking busy grooming themselves to worry about
What he really wants is to have Hjejle back without having
to change because he's living in his juvenile world of making
top five lists, going to see bands every night and organizing
records. Distraught by his most recent breakup with Hjejle, Cusack
stops to take a look at his romantic life. He contacts the five
girls responsible for his most painful breakups of his life to
see what the hell is wrong with him. But the whole process of
trying to find out what's wrong with him, and the realization
that everyone is changing but him, wears him down. He and Hjejle,
of course, wind up together, because they are too tired not to
What works in "High Fidelity" is the comedy and
the basic story, at least for a while. It's also genuinely shot.
The dialog is sharp, and it actually succeeds in being philosophical
about how guys think without beating us over the head with how
smart it is. Most movies about us men are either too glib or
too pompous to really get to the point but it works here. Maybe
it's because the movie readily acknowledges that Cusack's character
is a dick.
The lack of a strong plot makes it tedious and meandering,
though, and at two hours, "High Fidelity" is about
a half-hour too long. Plus, it takes too many wrong turns toward
the end. It's one of those movies that you think is over, but
it keeps going.
The whole movie is talky. Cusack at one point says Zeta-Jones
talks too much, but he's the guy yapping 80% of the time. Shut
the fuck up and take off Hjejle's top already. Cusack often talks
directly into the camera, but to the movie's credit, the monologues
are tolerable. They aren't the cutesy bullshit that talking into
the camera usually means.
The record store looks like the sloppy mess that most indie
stores are, with stickers and posters from long ago shows stuck
to every surface to prove that the people working there were
into a band way before anyone else. I could almost smell that
weird stench of old furniture and long-ago pot smoking that lingers
in these places.
Joe Louisa is by far the character who most represents what
the movie wants to portray. He's a meek, bald twerp into punk
rock bands that sing silly songs about girls, like the Buzzcocks,
Green Day and Stiff Little Fingers. I have seen a joker like
him in just about every little record store I've ever been in.
Paralyzed by their shyness, they always look like they're about
to puke, and they only hang out in record stores because they
don't know how else to meet kindred souls.
Jack Black is Louisa's opposite, a loud obnoxious elitist
who belittles people's record choices and thinks every dumb kid
who asks for advice is a blank canvas for him to paint with his
preferences. I've never encountered this character in a record
store and while his loud mouth antics may seem funny to the typical
Blockbuster Music shopper, he sure as hell isn't authentic. Real
record store elitists say nothing to your face; they wait until
It's hard getting around John Cusack's typically smug performance.
He's not as annoyingly self-satisfied in "High Fidelity"
as he was in "Being John Malkovich" or "Pushing
Tin" but he still never stops being John Cusack, appreciating
himself and his coolness. Never for a moment did I buy that he
was some guy really into music so much as I got the sense that
Cusack thought it would be cool to play some guy who was really
Iben Hjejle barely masks her Scandihoovian accent to play
a Chicago lawyer. She's all right and certainly pretty enough
to jerk-off while thinking about. But this movie is about a bunch
of Peter Pans and nobody thought to make her character anything
more than an idealized grown up woman. She's got all her shit
together and of course she is always right and reveals all sorts
of truths to Cusack. It's a disservice to make her hide her accent
because it would have made no difference to the story, and she
wouldn't have sounded as forced.
Another over-idealized female is Lisa Bonet. The movie turns
her into an all-knowing goddess because the writers, I'm guessing,
are too afraid of broads to make them anything short of perfect.
If she farted or had a peg leg, I guarantee you I would have
seen her as far more human. Bonet's not the hottie she was long
ago. Oh, man, I used to watch that awful, sappy "Cosby"
crap just to get fuel for my Lisa Bonet masturbation fantasies.
The story overplays its coolness with Tim Robbins, too, making
his new-age anger manager into a one-dimensional cartoon. He's
set up to be knocked down without a fighting chance and without
seeming genuine. Look, I'm no fan of fucking capitalist hippies
in Audis, but this one's a cheap shot.
The setting is overly drab. Good fucking God, there are at
least a half-dozen shots of a miserable Cusack stumbling around
in the rain holding his head. After 100 years of moviemaking,
isn't there a more original way to show a broken heart?
The movie's soundtrack is pretty fucking great, including
a couple of Velvet Underground songs and Stereolab. But part
of me thinks that if you don't already have this shit, you don't
deserve to get into it through this movie. And that's my big
beef. "High Fidelity" co-opts a culture of indie music
purely as a back drop. After watching it, I have no better understanding
of all these great songs they play for 30 seconds. And outside
of Louisa, the movie gives the viewer no real understanding of
who listens to it. It's a con job and I say, fuck you, Hollywood.
If you're sick of your God damn Elton John records, go make another
superstar. Leave the little people alone.
Three Fingers for "High Fidelity". It's a
good idea for a love story, from a novel that is genuine, but
tainted by the hand of Hollywood.