High Fidelity (2000)

Directed by Stephen Frears

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High Fidelity has a similar energy to another John Cusack classic, 1989’s Say Anything… except that this time Cusack plays an absolute jerk, self-loathing, self-centered and, for some reason, self-assured.  Rob Gordon (Cusack) owns his own record shop somewhere in a hip area of Chicago, and while to me that smells like success, Gordon spends the entire movie wondering how he’s gone so wrong in life.  That’s because he seems to base success entirely around the ebbs and flows of his love life, and most recently he finds himself dumped by longtime girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle).  This sets him down a spiral in which he narrates to the camera the list of his five worst break ups and struggles to think of why they didn’t work out.

Midway through the film and through Rob’s desperate, inappropriate attempts to get Laura back his friend Liz (Joan Cusack) will ask him why he even wants Laura back?  He seems hardly to care about his past girlfriends, only what those relationships say about himself, and he similarly seems to only care about this break up because it is a blow to his ego.

It’s a great question, and from what I recall the movie never offers an adequate response.  To me it seemed we should think he doesn’t truly want her back and that he would soon realize this.  Then he could open himself up to grow as a character and get out of this self-loathing, self-centered spiral.

But what happens?  Well he gets Laura back.

The movie does set up that their reunion might be ill-advised, but Rob refuses to pursue another possible love interest and instead commits to Laura.  It’s a fine moment, but it never quite feels earned, and when the movie ends I’m left thinking that Laura has made a huge mistake.

Taking a step back, Laura only gets back together with Rob after her father dies.  The movie suggests that grief is a clarifying emotion, I suppose, and that in this case it makes it clear to Laura that she really does love Rob.  However I’ve always assumed, in movies and in life, that grief is a sharp emotion like the honeymoon phase of a relationship.  It’s something strongly felt which will settle, hopefully, into something more sustainable overtime.  Just as the bonfire of romantic love eventually becomes a simmer, the storming ocean waves of grief soon settle until you can see your reflection in the water.

With this line of thinking, it seems that any decision Laura makes in such a state is probably ill-advised and shortsighted, and yet it’s the decision she makes which will send the film riding off into the sunset.

High Fidelity is a joyful little romp, partially because the movie understands its protagonist is a prick who needs to grow up, but the way it ends is either meant to be a sincere depiction of him completing his character arc or a subversion of the romcom formula in the same way, I’d say, (500) Days of Summer is.  In both movies the main character blames the rest of the world for his (romantic) problems and only occasionally if ever looks inward for some kind of explanation.  Both movies follow the character’s ups and downs and then end on yet another “up,” which to them feel earned but to the audience seems only a prelude to the next “down.”

Up Next: Killing Gunther (2017), Brewster McCloud (1970), Best of 2018

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