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'High Fidelity': Growing Up Is Hard to Do

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 31, 2000


    'High Fidelity' John Cusack (middle) suffers from a broken heart in "High Fidelity." (Touchstone)
"High Fidelity," a stinging stereophonic yarn, follows the hilarious romantic travails of overgrown slacker Rob Gordon (John Cusack), a thirtyish retro-record-store owner who's been stuck in the same groove since quitting college in the '80s. Though many girlfriends have tried, none has ever been able to needle him out of his prolonged adolescence.

Adapted from British author Nick Hornby's quirky cult novel, the freewheeling comedy is faithful to the original except that the hapless hero is no longer a Londoner but a Chicagoan. Not that the geography really matters much, as the story takes place in its own geeky little world, a veritable dorkery of pop music freaks.

The hub of this parallel universe is Championship Vinyl, Rob's failing business. Few customers patronize this grungy shop with its cache of rare albums. And those who do are usually ignored or, on occasion, shown the door. Thus Rob and his eccentric employees, Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso), spend the hours arguing arcane trivia and making up Top Five lists (Top Five first cuts on first albums and so forth).

Although deejays have become CD-jays, Rob and the other lost boys are still having a blast in the past. But all that changes when his live-in lover, Laura (Danish actress Iben Hjejle), gets fed up with his aimlessness and dumps him for their ponytailed, patchouli-drenched neighbor (played with smarmy relish by Tim Robbins). Suddenly the postmodern Peter Pan is jolted into rethinking his residency in Never-Never Land.

To that end, he revisits his Top Five Most Painful Split-Ups in hopes of finding some key to his failed love life. In a series of flashbacks, Rob recalls his last days with lost loves from junior high (Shannon Stillo), high school (Joelle Carter), college (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and young adulthood (Lili Taylor). Many flashbacks and soliloquies later, it hits him: Laura's about to become the fifth on that list, too. And he's got to get her back. Rob, self-indulgent, cynical and narcissistic, isn't the most sympathetic fellow. But he befriends the audience in frequent, funny and inclusive asides. You're charmed by his honesty, and you cheer his first, tentative steps toward adulthood. He convinces viewers, the males anyhow, that he's just like them, an ordinary guy without a clue when it comes to commitment. And women are charmed by the boyish qualities he attempts to shed.

Black, the lead singer for the band Tenacious D, sparks the proceedings in the showboating role of Barry, an obnoxious music snob and foil for his timorous co-worker, Dick, expertly portrayed by Louiso. Pale, shy and easily startled, Louiso's Dick always looks as if somebody just picked up his rock. The story may be told from a male point of view, but the distaff players--Taylor, Carter, Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, Lisa Bonet and Natasha Gregson Wagner--are vivid and arrestingly complex in supporting roles.

The film's music, deftly chosen and wide-ranging, includes 61 songs from performers ranging from Bob Dylan to the 13th Floor Elevators. Bruce Springsteen, who makes a cameo appearance in one of Rob's dreams, provides sensible advice for the lovelorn hero. Not that Rob has the sense to take it.

The loosely structured screenplay was written by Cusack, D.V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink, who also collaborated on "Grosse Point Blank." And the incomparable director, Stephen Frears, makes harmony of "High Fidelity's" many changes in tempo and tone. Why not give it a spin?

HIGH FIDELITY (107 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for profanity and sensuality.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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