Sunday, 20 January 2008

High Fidelity (2000, UK/USA, Stephen Frears)

OK so I've seen it like a million times already but.....howls of derision accompanied news that Hornby's chick-lit for men novel was going to be updated to Chicago turn of the century. I don't know, it's hardly the same as giving Dickens or Austen a contemporary twist, and music snobs who know nothing about love and romance are hardly unique to Islington, are they? No doubt the success of this Americanisation of Hornby's material encouraged the remake of 'Fever Pitch' also known as 'The Perfect Catch'. I've not seen this, but you have to understand that romantic comedies starring Jimmy Fallon are hardly going to jump out at me as a "must see" film.

It's not often do you get romantic comedies aimed squarely at men as much as women. 'High Fidelity' follows Rob Gordon (John Cusack), who breaks up with his latest girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) and then reminisces over his entire love life in what is described as a "what does it all mean?" phase, whilst running a record store that's not doing so well at present. Are you supposed to sympathise with Rob - he's certainly portrayed as a pretty decent guy if you overlook the reasons why his latest girlfriend left him in the first place. Maybe when he listens to cool-as-fuck music like Belle and Sebastian, Stereolab and Ann Peebles (hand picked by Cusack and the other producers - certainly only the latter warrants a mention in the original novel), you like him a little more. And he appears as normal as it is possible to be compared to the other male characters; Barry and Dick (Jack Black and Todd Louiso), his exceptionally polar opposite employees and Ian/Ray (Tim Robbins), whom Laura left him for, but is clearly a creep of the highest order.

But nevermind, because Rob does learn a lot across the duration of the film about himself. It's pretty flimsy and superficial stuff, I guess, maybe no more perceptive than the kind of guff peddled in whatever the latest novel for twenty or thirtysomething middle class women is, some might say, but this is seriously funny; whether it's Jack Black berating some guy for not owning 'Psychocandy' by Jesus and Mary Chain, or John Cusack dreaming about beating the shit out of Tim Robbins. You wonder why these great and glamorous women dig him (he even sleeps with Lisa Bonet's singer-songwriter), but you know, it never aims for realism with it's talk-to-the-camera approach inspired by 'Alfie' and it's aforementioned dream sequences. Whilst I realise the novel and the film have their flaws, namely a degree of shallowness and simplification, but I can kind of identify (more with the music nerd side of things at least) and a modern romantic comedy that makes you laugh rather than groan at it's sheer ineptness is a godsend. 4/5

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