High Fidelity [2000]

Transplanted from England to the not-so-mean streets of Chicago, the screen adaptation of Nick Hornby's cult-classic novel High Fidelity emerges unscathed from its Americanization, idiosyncrasies intact, thanks to John Cusack's inimitable charm and a nimble, nifty screenplay (cowritten by Cusack). Early-thirtysomething Rob Gordon (Cusack) is a slacker who owns a vintage record shop, a massive collection of LPs, and innumerable top-five lists in his head. At the opening of the film, Rob recounts directly to the audience his all-time top-five breakups--which doesn't include his recent falling out with his girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle), who has just moved out of their apartment. Thunderstruck and obsessed with Laura's desertion (but loath to admit it), Rob begins a quest to confront the women who instigated the aforementioned top-five breakups to find out just what he did wrong. Low on plot and high on self-discovery, High Fidelity takes a good 30 minutes or so to find its groove (not unlike Cusack's Grosse Pointe Blank), but once it does, it settles into it comfortably and builds a surprisingly touching momentum. Rob is basically a grown-up version of Cusack's character in Say Anything (who was told "Don't be a guy--be a man!"), and if you like Cusack's brand of smart-alecky romanticism, you'll automatically be won over (if you can handle Cusack's almost-nonstop talking to the camera). Still, it's hard not to be moved by Rob's plight. At the beginning of the film he and his coworkers at the record store (played hilariously by Jack Black and Todd Louiso) seem like overgrown boys in their secret clubhouse; by the end, they've grown up considerably, with a clear-eyed view of life. Ably directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons), High Fidelity features a notable supporting cast of the women in Rob's life, including the striking, Danish-born Hjejle, Lisa Bonet as a sultry singer-songwriter, and the triumphant triumvirate of Lili Taylor, Joelle Carter, and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Rob's ex-girlfriends. With brief cameos by Tim Robbins as Laura's new, New Age boyfriend and Bruce Springsteen as himself. --Mark Englehart

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