High Fidelity (15)

Review by Jack Foley

SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted Scenes; Interview with Stephen Frears; Interview with John Cusack; Theatrical Trailer; Dolby Digital 5.1: English; Subtitles: English, English for the hearing impaired, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Hebrew, Greek

WHEN, in 1997, it was announced that Nick Hornby’s classic High Fidelity - about man’s struggle to understand women - was to be relocated from north London to Chicago and starring John Cusack, fans of the novel held their breath, hoping it wouldn’t be ruined.

Their fears became heightened when another classic Brit novel, Alex Garland’s The Beach, fell to ‘the American touch’ and was altered to attract greater audiences States-side.

But in a year when you could easily compile a list of ‘Five great books ruined by Hollywood’, I’m glad to say that High Fidelity isn’t one of them - rather it is a great film which remains true to the book while, if anything, adding to the feelgood nature of the page-turner. Cusack, together with director Stephen Frears and the writing team behind the brilliant Grosse Pointe Blank, has delivered a polished, witty, ultra-cool movie which makes angst-ridden men somehow seem hip, while trying to shed some light on that crazy thing called love!

The plot is pretty simple - record store owner Rob (Cusack) has just broken up with Laura (his latest girlfriend who has chosen to co-habit with the guy upstairs) and, in between bickering with his moronic, music-obsessed work colleagues, recalls his ‘Top Five Most Memorable Break-Ups’ while trying to fathom out what went wrong with each of them. Relayed via flashback, the break-ups are at best embarrassing, at worse, cringe-inducing - but most ring true as narrator Cusack again serves to underline why he is one of the best actors currently doing the rounds in Hollywood.

Always charming, occasionally vulnerable, but with the ability to talk his way out of any given situation and still emerge with a modicum of respectability, Cusack is perfectly cast as Rob - the type of guy we can all identify with, even when things are down.

And he is ably supported by a cracking cast who seem to be having a blast, none more so than Todd Louiso and Jack Black as Rob’s nerdy colleagues. Black, in particular, shines as the acid-tongued music expert never afraid to issue an insult even if it means the loss of a rare customer, while the oh-so-shy Louiso is the perfect foil to his overblown antics. Of the exes, the likes of Lisa Bonet and Catherine Zeta Jones offer memorable cameos, while Tim Robbins has great fun cast against type as the stoned man upstairs. But the movie would still fall flat on its face if the object of Rob’s desires wasn’t so believable.

As Laura, newcomer Iben Hjejle (last seen in Mifune) plays brilliantly off Cusack, not least because she is an attractive and accomplished actress able to convey a range of emotions rather than some stunning but talentless model we can’t really believe in.

Frears’ direction is also first-rate (perfectly paced and intelligent), while the soundtrack is well-chosen and appealing, as much a character as some of the actors themselves.

High Fidelity will undoubtedly be one of the romantic movies of the year which offers plenty for both of the sexes. It may even creep into a top five list of the best date movies of the decade!