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I’ve always loved Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, but the original version of Rob has always been a little stuffily British and bad-sweater-driven, a reference-y, music and relationship-focused tribute to living in London. Stephen Frears' onscreen rendition takes the character, maintains the disheveled appearance and the top-five lists, and puts him in Chicago with a little more of an optimistic bent.
Rob Gordon (John Cusack) is the lackadaisical owner of Championship Vinyl, a Chicago record store that refuses to carry Top 40 hits and often deters its customers from purchasing “bad” music. Gordon spends his days at the store, blithely hanging out with his musical nerd buddies, Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Luiso), and spending any downtime challenging each other to create personal Top Five lists ranging from “Top Five Songs about Death” to “Top Five Track 1 Side 1’s.” In his personal life, however, Rob is facing more important questions, including why women always seem to leave him.
Rob has recently been dumped by his longtime girlfriend, Laura, prompting him to compose his own Top Five list of his most heart-wrenching breakups. In order to divulge Rob’s inner monologues onscreen, the script imposes a strange format: sometimes Rob and his buddies are living life out onscreen, and sometimes Rob is simply telling his story directly to the camera. It should be off-putting, but it isn’t, and it gives us the opportunity to hear more witticisms, insights, and pop culture references -- that have actually held up with age -- onscreen.
Most of the movie is dedicated to Rob's perpetual adolescence, and he's fun to watch even when he behaves repellently. When Rob isn’t busy stealing scenes, Black’s character, Barry, has more pop and pizzazz in his short scenes than in the films where he’s been given the license to behave in a goofy manner for a full 90 minutes. The dynamics between Rob, Barry, and the sufficiently awkward Dick make for some of the best moments in the film.
However, missing here are some of the best moments from Hornby’s book, especially a stand-up moment for Rob where a woman is trying to break her cheating husband’s heart by selling his precious record collection, a moment when Rob steps up and decides he could not possibly be party to the sale. Still, some of the changes are for the better. Rob, as a whole, has a more optimistic air than his British counterpart and the way he lives his life -- despite his ruminations -- is more about moving forward than his literary self.
Ultimately, High Fidelity is as obsessive about its relationships as it is about its musical choices, but despite, or possibly because of, this, a storybook ending never seems expected or important. Thus, when the story plays out in a way that is not perfect, but is perfectly acceptable, we can nod in contentment and move on with our day.
Despite being a Touchstone film, High Fidelity is a Disney-produced disc, and one of the least impressive I’ve ever seen from the Mickey Mouse company. Usually Disney goes out of its way to create a “world” for the disc, with an impressive menu and a slew of interactive features. Likely because High Fidelity is just a re-release of an old (ish), very adult film, the company decided to skip the gimmicks.
There are several extras on the disc, however, including a set of interviews with Cusack who partially wrote, co-produced, and acted in the film. After the “Conversations with John Cusack” segment, there’s an equivalent segment with Frears called “Conversations with Stephen Frears.” It’s nice to see where each person fit into the production process. Cusack is more excited to talk about writing scenes and choosing music, and Frears -- who is quite the opposite of an audiophile -- discusses casting and piecing the movie together as a whole.
Deleted scenes follow, including the aforementioned scene where the woman is trying to sell her record collection. There are plenty of funny moments in these, but nothing that would have necessarily made the flick any better.
Overall, the quality of the Blu-Ray is pretty good, but the disc itself has one of the strangest problems I’ve ever encountered. Despite the film mostly being about Rob growing and working through relationship issues, music is still very important, and when music is playing, it takes precedence in the film. This wouldn’t be a huge problem, except Rob is a mumbler, and so you’ll constantly either be turning the volume up or down, or will have to decided to maintain the volume loud enough to understand Rob, leaving the musical moments blaring in your ears.
Ultimately, High Fidelity’s Blu-Ray is probably no good as a repeat buy, but if you are missing the disc in your collection, it’s certainly good enough to own.
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