Thursday, April 22, 2010

Time Capsule Cinema: High Fidelity

"A while back, Dick, Barry and I agreed that what really matters is WHAT you like, not what you ARE like.  Books, records, movies, these things matter..."- Rob Gordon.

High Fidelity was one of my favorite movies in high school.  In hindsight, it seems strange that a 16 year-old girl would have so loved a movie about a 30-something, aging hipster male's commitment problems, but it probably has a lot to do with the fact that the aging hipster is played by John Cusack and that I could relate to the music and pop culture geekery of the main characters.

Based off a Nick Hornby novel but moved from London to Chicago, High Fidelity is set in late 90s Wicker Park, where Rob (John Cusack) owns a record store called Championship Vinyl and has just been dumped by his longtime girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle).  Rob works with two other music geeks: shy, nervous Dick (Todd Louiso) and boisterous, obnoxious Barry (Jack Black).  All three spend their days making weirdly specific top five lists (i.e. top five musical crimes perpetuated by Stevie Wonder in 80s and 90s) and chasing away customers from the store.  After his breakup, Rob makes a list of his top five breakups of all time (Laura is bitterly left off), and then decides to reconnect with the girls on the list to find out where he went wrong. 

High Fidelity does a great job of capturing the time and place of the movie.  I was not hip enough at the time to really feel nostalgic about the indie rock scene then, but I vaguely remember Dickies clothing and records being cool among a certain crowd (I did partake in latter and still have my turntable).  Barry's ironic t-shirt love is still hipster chic today.  Wicker Park was less gentrified and not yet overrun by boutiques, hipsters, or Josh Hartnett.  Rob even at one point remarks the record store's location (Milwaukee Ave. and Honore St.) was chosen to attract a minimum of foot traffic.  Now that would be a prime location along the main drag of Wicker Park/ Bucktown. 

The comedic performances in the movie are stellar.  John Cusack is somewhat playing against type.  He's still a laid back, hip guy, but he's not the über-devoted, romantic-bordering-on-stalking Lloyd Dobbler type.  He's a grumpy man child, who hates his job, his friends, and his life.  He's also somewhat more appealing than Dobbler.  Rob would never sulk after a boring square like Diane Court (she's probably never even heard of the Pixies) or listen to sentimental tacky crap like "In Your Eyes."  Much of the movie consists of Cusack's monologues, which could easily be stagy or boring.  However, John Cusack infuses them with a sweetness and a Bill Murray-esque zaniness.  Jack Black's performance as Barry really stood out at the time it was released and helped turn him into a big star.  He is definitely very funny in this movie and good at playing a self-absorbed jerk.  Todd Louiso gives my favorite performance as the quiet Dick, a constant target of Barry's beratement.  He is hilariously awkward and timid, but everybody probably knows someone like him. 

Even though High Fidelity is steeped in pop culture, it doesn't feel dated.  It helps that most of the characters' favorite movies and films are retro and obscure.  High Fidelity is one of the few movies that really gets alternative and geek culture right.  The soundtrack also holds up, featuring music from 13th Floor Elevators, the Kinks, Smog, Stereolab and more.

Find it in the catalog!  

If you ever find yourself really bored one day, you can visit the locations where the movie was shot.  Most are in Chicago.  Check them out here.