High Fidelity

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“High Fidelity” is the ultimate in goofy movie hipness, so cool that it doesn’t even seem to be trying (which of course is the only way to BE cool). For example, the pop-music aficionados in the film automatically disqualify a song from possible inclusion in a Top 5 list because of its association with “The Big Chill”: Did you even know “The Big Chill” was un-hip? I didn’t, and I consider myself pretty with-it.

John Cusack, doing his lovable sad-sack bit to perfection, stars as Rob Gordon, a record-store owner. By which I mean he owns a store that actually sells records — you know, the old vinyl things that have been replaced by CDs (which he also sells, but which he clearly has no passion for).

He and his employees, vulgar pop music-elitist Barry (Jack Black) and soft-spoken Dick (Todd Louiso) sit around and come up with odd Top 5 lists: Top five side one/track one songs from albums; top five songs about death; you get the idea. Rob even has a person Top Five Worst Break-ups — a category into which his recent split with Laura (Iben Hjejle) has broken into at No. 5 “with a bullet.”

As Rob ponders the fact that all his relationships end in failure, he starts tracking down the other women on the list to see what went wrong. In the meantime, he tries to patch things up with Laura, too, and makes attempts to do something productive with his life by producing an album by a couple of skateboarding, shoplifting street punks.

His eventual realization is a rather romantic one, about the difference between fantasy life with fantasy women and day-to-day living with someone you actually love — lofty notions indeed, almost hidden by the film’s focus on outstandingly funny one-liners and characters.

It would be inaccurate to say Rob breaks the fourth wall in this film; it’s more like the fourth wall never exists. He speaks to the audience almost constantly, yet does it remarkably well, in a way that never gets old. There are quirky fantasy scenes — most notably the one where Rob has a few different versions of killing Laura’s new lover, the hatable Ian Raymond (Tim Robbins, in an amusing cameo).

John’s sister Joan Cusack plays his sister here, and though she has precious little screen time, she makes the most of it. Nearly stealing the show, however, is Jack Black as Barry. Barry has high moral grounds when it comes to pop music, and he’s constantly cussing out potential customers who have the gall to ask for “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” or who claim to have EVERY Echo and the Bunnymen album when in reality they are missing one. Barry is so hip he’d be unbearable to live with — but as a character in a movie, he’s hysterically funny, a truly original, genuine personality in a season of movies that has been lacking in them.

It’s still John Cusack’s movie, though, and he’s never been more likable. His little personal journey is nice, and his commentary throughout is funny, but that doesn’t adequately sum up the man’s indefatigable charm. He doesn’t light up the silver screen with the magnetism of a Tom Cruise or a Clint Eastwood; instead, he quietly goes about his business and lets the audience come to him — which they inevitably do, because what he’s doing and what he’s saying is always so entertaining.

A- (; R, abundant profanity, brief partial nudity, brief sex scene, brief comic violence.)

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