The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: High Fidelity

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“High Fidelity”
Rated R

Parental-advisory stickers have it wrong. What’s really suggestive and explicit about music is its capacity to conjure as much pain as joy. Rob Gordon (John Cusack) knows that well, retreating into his favorite music as absolution for bad behavior and a justification for recalling breakups the way he wants.

Based on Nick Hornby’s seriocomic odyssey through one man’s greatest splits, 2000’s “High Fidelity” reunited John Cusack with director Stephen Frears 10 years after con drama “The Grifters.”

Love is its own flim-flam for Rob — a passive-aggressive record-store owner who’s been wronged, but has also orchestrated his share of emotional destruction. He fashions lists about his past to deflect his present, and the harmless hobby has become an emotional crutch.

Rob’s shop also is more mausoleum than moneymaker — enlivened only by snappy, seriously funny barbs traded by employees (Jack Black and Todd Louiso) who judge peoples’ pop-culture purchases. Dumped by his latest companion, Laura, Rob reaches out to past girlfriends to flesh out the “sketch of a decent sensitive guy” inside him.

In his best Zeroes performance, Cusack traced Rob’s realizations and reconciliations with resonant thoughtfulness and wit — wisely playing Rob as the worst-case scenario of Lloyd Dobler after Diane Court was done with him, resigned to life as an old, sad bastard.

For a romantic comedy, “Fidelity” bravely balled up in the darkest corners of Rob’s self-loathing, but did so to increase the eventual tenderness and cheer of him swaying in a crowd — accepted for, and accepting of, all his fickle flaws.

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6 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: High Fidelity”

  1. […] figure out what went wrong is not an original concept. Nick Hornby and Stephen Frears did it with “High Fidelity.” There was a fun new documentary, “A Complete History of My Sexual Failures,” that did […]

  2. Nick Rogers says:

    Not yet seen "The Time Traveler’s Wife," as I’m told it comes nowhere close to the novel’s knock-you-on-your-ass quality. Ditto on the "Stand by Me" scene. And come to think of it, Cusack maybe only has six GOOJF cards for me – he might have torn up his "Grosse Pointe Blank" one with the debacle known as "War, Inc."

  3. Yes, nothing pisses me off more than misuse of Chicago locations. What also comes to mind: in The Time Traveler’s Wife, Eric Bana encounters his mother on the Brown Line el train, which only runs aboveground. She refers to it as the SUBWAY. You could hear the collective groan of the movie theatre I was in. And High Fidelity went beyond it–it was Chicago, from a Chicagoan’s perspective. It’s the little neighborhoods, dive bars, restaurants and indie shows that make this city so fantastic.

    I concur on all your Cusack get-out-of-jail-free cards. I still choke up when I think about the dinner table scene in Stand By Me, where he’s so proud that his brother wrote a story–and Gordy ended up a writer. *sob*

  4. Nick Rogers says:

    mia: Few cinematic things make me happier than a film set in Chicago that celebrates its ethos and vibe while getting locations correct. At the time, this canceled out for me the Wachowskis’ ludicrous substitution of Australia for Chicago in "The Matrix." (Do you remember the scene when Keanu’s on the run and he’s told to go down Balbo? Blasphemy!) As for the not-a-fan, now-a-fan scenario. I was that way with "Clueless" for reasons I can’t explain. And yes, in addition to "High Fidelity," Cusack’s got a whole wallet of get-out-of-jail free cards for me ("Better Off Dead," "Stand By Me," "Say Anything …," "The Grifters," "Grosse Pointe Blank," "Being John Malkovich").

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lauren Whalen. Lauren Whalen said: Great review of my favorite film EVER. If you get it, chances are you'll get me. Heroes of the Zeroes: High Fidelity […]

  6. This is quite possibly my favorite film ever.

    I’ll never forget the first time I saw it: the first Sunday night of its release, 10 p.m., at a downtown Chicago theatre populated by the exact hipster crowd the film pokes fun at but also loves. I was 19. It was one of the best moviegoing experiences of my life. Speaking of, the film’s scenic love letter to Chicago is both accurate and amazing.

    Later that year, I encouraged a new friend (aptly named Rob) to watch the film. He didn’t like it the first time. I told him to give it another shot, and now it’s one of his favorites as well.

    Also (ahem), my most serious relationship (on- and off-going for almost 14 years now) has scarily paralleled Rob and Laura’s.

    I don’t care how much tripe John Cusack resigns himself to for a paycheck. I will always, always love him for High Fidelity.