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Why It Works: High Fidelity

11.25.2016

Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

With shows like Mad Men, Weeds, Girls, and Breaking Bad and movies like THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THERE WILL BE BLOOD, the idea of a heavily flawed, unlikable, or downright despicable main character has become par for the course, but this was much less standard in 2000 (though you still had your AS GOOD AS IT GETS as well as 98% of Bill Murray movies). HIGH FIDELITY focuses on both the light and dark side of the geek/collector culture and specifically how we can let our critical tendencies cloud our senses of purpose, empathy, and self-worth. With a self-absorbed lead who breaks the fourth wall, a plot with no real direction, and even a few gags that should seem out of place but somehow don't, HIGH FIDELITY manages to hit all the marks of both a great comedy and drama. Here's why it works:

WHY WE LIKE THE CHARACTERS:

Rob Gordon is among the most interesting and thoroughly developed characters in a film primarily labeled as a comedy. Rob having just been dumped moments before we first meet him couple with the fact that he directly confides in us, the audience, immediately has us on his side. As the story progresses, though, we learn that Rob is far from perfect and not only kept some of the darker truths about his and Laura's relationship from us but is also a self-absorbed manchild who fails to consider the feelings of others (and often himself). When Rob rehashes the past with Penny Hardwick and she storms out of the restaurant, all he can feel is relief in realizing he was the one who broke up with her, and when he has an amazing night with Marie De Salle, the second he leaves all he can think about is something Laura said to him in their last conversation. There's not only self-absorption here but also an unwillingness for Rob to let himself be happy, instead choosing to wallow in misery with a heartbreaking record. While these qualities should make us either dislike or dismiss Rob, they're presented in a careful enough way that we find ourselves identifying with him. We may not be completely on Rob's side, but we can't help but admit we've all done some version of the things he does and for many of the same reasons. Laura, as someone who's moving on in life, gives us the counterbalance to Rob, with her line, "you're the same person you used to be, and I'm not," boiling the thrust of the film down to one simple thought. Dick and Barry provide diametrically opposed, hilarious stereotypes of the geeky collector (and help Rob seem like a normal person by comparison), and the patchouli stinking, ponytailed Ray/Ian and Rob's past and present love interests provide different relationships and personality types to keep things interesting.

The answer to the question, "what the if THE BIG LEBOWSKI guys worked in a record store?"

WHY WE CARE:

Rob's countdown of his top five breakups could easily play like a series of short films which have nothing to do with the movie, but instead they reveal a great deal about why Rob is how he is and provide him with a mission to go about fixing himself. By focusing on several different relationships instead of just Rob and Laura, we as an audience are not only kept entertained, but there's something in some or all of those relationships we can relate to, and so we begin to feel like a part of the story instead of just a casual observer. Moreover, since self-examination is not the most exciting of plot devices, the colorful palette of characters and relationships makes any individual scene feel fresh and interesting. There's also something to be said for the fact that this isn't either your standard "win the girl back" or "get over the girl" story. We feel a continued tension between Rob and Laura, even after it seems there's nothing left of their relationship, and so we're constantly left in a state of doubt about what happens next, even into the final few scenes.

There are too many great minor parts to choose from, so I just shoved a few together. Deal with it.

WHY WE'RE SATISFIED:

Due to the nature of their relationship, we're not really sure if we want Rob and Laura to get back together, but we do know Rob needs to grow up before anything significatn can happen. The two do get back together early in the third act, but it feels too easy- there's no big triumph or feeling of resolution. Laura is helping Rob get his life together, but once he meets and decides to make a mixtape for Caroline, the cute music columnist who thinks he's great, we see that Rob is still Rob- like when the bad guy pops back up after you thought he was dead. The difference here is that Rob is self-aware now, and knows exactly what he's up to. Rob proceeds to make a very half-assed attempt at a proposal to Laura, which, while it's clearly his attempt at a quick fix to his problem, at least shows that he's trying and is finally starting to appreciate the things that matter. In a final scene, Rob tells us he's started to make a tape for Laura, full of music that would make her happy, revealing himself to have learned, at least in part, how to put the happiness of others before his own.

"I'm tired of it. And I'm tired of everything else, for that matter. But I don't ever seem to get tired of you."

WHY WE REMEMBER:

I remember within a couple years after HIGH FIDELITY came out, every guy I talked to liked it, every woman I talked to who had seen it once was either unimpressed by it or thought it was fine, and every woman I talked to who had seen it more than once really liked it. I think there are two reasons for that. The simplest reason is that it's a very dudes-being-dudes comedy, so men can identify with it very easily. Beneath the surface, though, there is a rich tapestry of insight into the male psyche as well as why both men and women tend to behave in certain ways when frustrated, lonely, restless,or complacent, much of which isn't clear the first time through. I read Nick Hornby's original novel after having seen the movie several times and have never felt so much like an author was reaching through the page, grabbing me by the collar, and saying, "I know you, asshole." HIGH FIDELITY is also hugely helped by the fact that Stephen Frears directs it like a drama, letting the story breathe and handing all comic duties to the script and the writers without resorting to the bright colors, quick cuts, and close ups so many comedies depend upon. D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack, and Scott Rosenberg's script has plenty of fun gags and memorable lines ("but the word 'yet'..."), and Rob's takes to the camera and rehashing of his past relationships gives the film a classic ANNIE HALL feel. The film's soundtrack is exquisitely curated, and the cast of John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black, and Todd Louiso is perfect, with Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Lili Taylor, Joelle Carter, Sara Gilbert, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Bruce Springsteen, and even the very minor characters adding dimension, humor, and a ridiculous ponytail to the mix. If you haven't seen HIGH FIDELITY more than once or haven't seen it in years, I highly recommend another viewing. It might even make one of your top five lists.

Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!

If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at brianbitner@joblo.com.

Source: JoBlo.com

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