Viking Night: High Fidelity
By Bruce Hall
February 7, 2012
So, you're a fan of John Cusack, are you? Well, you're not alone. The man has a legion of adoring fans, and they're only slightly less enthusiastic than people who are into Bruce Campbell cosplay, or name their children after characters from Doctor Who. I have to assume that most of these people grew up in the '80s, and identify with Cusack through his earlier films like Better off Dead, or Say Anything. The former of those is about a kid who decides to kill himself because his girlfriend dumps him, while the latter is a charming comedy about an underachieving stalker who remains fixated on his high school sweetheart after they graduate.
The best thing about both of these films is Cusack, who is one of the few actors of his generation who could credibly play a love struck teenager with a diseased mind and make him seem sympathetic instead of creepy. This is The Cusack's bread and butter, and he does it so well that his fans are willing to endure things like Serendipity and Hot Tub Time Machine because to them, the man is like a brother. So why then, out of all those movies, would I pick High Fidelity to discuss? After all, if we're going to talk cult classics, Better off Dead is a no brainer, isn't it?
True - but few films are a greater test of Cusack's mutant ability to make almost any character likeable. Really, the guy could play Hitler and you'd still kind of want to give him a hug. And High Fidelity has him again turning to his old standby, the sympathetic, lovelorn sad sack who just can't seem to get a break from life. Only this time he's well into his 30s and it's a lot harder to feel sorry for him, for reasons that will become apparent in just....one...moment.
The film opens at the home of Rob Gordon (Cusack), who is in the midst of begging his incredibly exotic looking girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle - say that ten times fast) not to walk out on him. He fails, because she's got that look on her face that women do when mentally, they've checked out about six months ago. They've been patient, they've dropped hints, laid down bread crumbs, passed up better men and even ignored the desperate advice of their very best friends for you. And now, she's had enough.
After she's gone, it's kind of easy to see why. Rob is a man who sits around stewing in self doubt, brooding over and muttering about the many failures in his past, particularly the ones that involved other women. This, of course, makes him dour and sullen to the woman he's currently with and naturally drives her away. It seems Rob can come up with more details about his ex girlfriends than his current one - and we all know how girls like to share a relationship with ghosts.
So, Rob turns to the camera and begins to recount for us the five worst breakups of his life. This is a cinematic device; usually, when a character addresses the camera this means they're not talking to us so much as they're talking to themselves, or mulling an issue over incessantly in their own mind. Had the film not resorted to this convention, it would have been necessary to literally show Rob walking around in circles muttering to himself and pulling his hair out in clumps, which - I'm guessing - would make him a lot harder to like.