29 Days of Romance, Review #22: High Fidelity (2000)

29 Days of Romance, Review #22: High Fidelity (2000)
High Fidelity poster
IMDb

Directed by: Stephen Frears. Starring: John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: March 31, 2000.

This is a review of a classic music film, Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity, from someone who doesn’t live and breathe music. Music’s everywhere but most of the music I come across, it’s from film. I don’t sit down and listen to music everyday, but I watch movies everyday so I technically do listen to music everyday. Music makes some people focus but when I listen to music I like to listen to lyrics and not do anything else, and I just don’t have time for that. It doesn’t help me focus, it distracts, so I usually just sit in silence when I’m writing.

High Fidelity follows Rob (John Cusack), a record store owner and compulsive list maker who takes us through his top five-breakups, including his current breakup with Laura (Iben Hjejle).

I’ve always wanted to get more into music but I’m just usually too lazy to download songs and put them on my phone. But after watching High Fidelity, it’s the kind-of movie that makes vinyl look cool to even someone like me who doesn’t live and breathe music. The soundtrack is absolutely killer and I’ll try and find every song that’s listed in this film which will keep me busy for awhile.

The film is clever as Rob goes through his breakups, analyzing his wrongdoings and why he’s doomed to being single. The screenplay, written by D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack and Scott Rosenberg, based on the novel by Nick Thornby, has clever insight into relationships as there’s no such thing as perfection, and Rob learns this as he’s stuck over-analyzing the past.

High Fidelity article
John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity. (IMDb)

It’s a unique comedy in that way as he sorts through his past the way he sorts his record collection, and he literally starts to sort it autobiographically and how each record has impacted his life. Rob could literally just tell a story about every record and it would still be fascinating because the writing here is so strong and Rob’s so knowledgeable. The film uses the record store as a parallel for living in the past as the world keeps moving past vinyl.

Jack Black is a highlight as Barry, one of the employees at Rob’s record store Championship Vinyl. He’s obnoxious and hilarious and embodies rock and roll here. It’s signature Jack Black that seemed like a preview of his antics in Richard Linklater’s 2003 film School of Rock. He’s the best part of this for me. The other record store employee, Dick (Todd Louiso), is awkward and balances the trio of employees out. I can’t remember any of his jokes, but I like the chemistry of the group as they just shoot the shit and discuss their favourite records.

That’s what a lot of this film is, their banter and it’s entertaining because they’re great together. The best scenes are when they’re just talking, though when Laura’s new boyfriend Ian/Ray (Tim Robbins) comes in and confronts Rob, that’s one of the best scenes in the record store.

The characters get snobby as they judge people for their personal tastes in music and film, and their elitist attitudes are acknowledged but realistic to their characters. They’re still likable because this is definitely how I’d discuss films with my friends if I ever worked with them.

I know that if I ever went into Championship Vinyl they probably wouldn’t sell me anything because I couldn’t tell them my top five favourite bands. In turn, I just wouldn’t sell them anything if they came into my imaginary Blockbuster Video.

High Fidelity, cusack
John Cusack in High Fidelity. (IMDb)

Rob is an asshole and that’s something I wasn’t expecting going into this. It’s an unfiltered look at relationships, and I think that’s why Rob tends to get unlikable in his cynicism. John Cusack is great, though, and the dialogue’s clever. His constant fourth wall breaking is also a clever way to tell this story.

I think there’s something missing in the romance with Laura. Iben Hjejle is good, but there’s something missing here and I can’t quite put my finger on it. This might be the point of the film as Rob tries to find the perfect relationship but can’t because a perfect relationship doesn’t exist for him. There’s always something not quite right that he can’t identify. Hence, he accepts his fate and learns to be a better person, and that’s what made me love the last third of this film.

For the record (that’s not supposed to be a pun), I don’t love this as much as I wanted to. I think that’s because I’m not a music guy. Maybe after I know which bands and songs they’re actually listing in their conversations, I could love this because I’d know what they’re talking about.

I think High Fidelity is brilliantly written and acted, and so well-directed by Stephen Frears. There are just parts of this I can’t fall in love with it because I don’t like rock and roll as much as these characters. I think this film accomplishes its job because the cast’s passion for this music makes me want to love rock and roll as much as them.

Score: 75/100

Philomena (2013)

PhilomenaReleased: November 27, 2013. Directed by: Stephen Frears. Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark. Runtime: 98 min.

Today, teenage pregnancy is a commonplace. There’s even a TV show about young pregnant girls called “16 and Pregnant” that premiered back in 2009. It seems like a stupid premise to me, but it shows how accepting people are of it these days. Back in 1960s Ireland, around the time of the Magdalene sister homes, if a young girl was pregnant – a lot of parents would be so ashamed that they’d disown their children and force them to live in a convent. They wouldn’t have any other place to go, and they’d have to work their asses off to repay the nuns.

This is what happened to Philomena Lee, a 16-year-old who had a child, and when her son was about 3 years old, he was adopted. Ever since, Philomena (Judi Dench) has kept this a secret. On the son’s fiftieth birthday, Phil (now in her 60s) tells her daughter about Anthony – and with their luck, they find a political journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who was recently let go from his job, to take on this human interest story.

After fifty years of Philomena not knowing where or how her son is doing, the pair set off to find Philomena’s son, following leads and information the convent might possess; which, unfortunately, isn’t much to go on. Martin has to use his journalistic skills to find where the son might be. One reason this film is so charming is because these characters are so different. Martin is a bit more realistic thinker who thinks questions like ‘Do you believe in God’ are difficult to answer. He’s more pessimistic than Philomena; but almost equally funny. Philomena is one of those people is genuinely interested in people say, and she finds humour in the simplest of things – even if she doesn’t realize that she’s being hilarious. That’s what helps make this a simple comedy in parts. It’s lightly entertaining but it’s an effective drama, too. It’s a different sort-of road trip film, but a refreshing one.

I’m glad that there is a surprising layer of great comedy, because without it the film would be boring. That’s a reason I was hesitant to see this, because the story sounds like it could be good, but it also sounded slow to me. Judi Dench’s great performance helps; she plays a character who only wants to know how her son’s life is going, and know if he’s ever thought of her. Like I said, she is very funny, as well. She is a character who carries around this secret and its shame hand in hand. I think Steve Coogan’s performance is great here, as well, because his comic delivery is just priceless. He is considerate of Philomena’s wishes, and doesn’t always feel like a journalist in it for the money. I think he’s an underrated actor. He impressed me here as an actor and as a co-screenwriter – I’m sure he had a big hand in the witty dialogue.

The friendship that is created is charming. The characters’ beliefs are challenged throughout from what they learn along the way. This is also an ideal film for schools that might want to express the Catholics’ beliefs back in the 1960s; it seems to me some nuns still hold those beliefs. Those would be the old-fashioned ones. I think this is a film that should be experienced because of its subject matter. It’s powerful and is emotionally gripping. It’s the idea of being taken away from one’s family that gets to me. I mean, if anyone tried to take me away from my mother, heads would freaking roll!

There’s a quote commonly used by critics “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” and oftentimes, those can only be applied to great films. Only so many directors and writers have that ability. Alexander Payne has a true knack for it, and even his co-writers on “The Descendants” Nat Faxon and Jim Rash do, too, as expressed in “The Way, Way Back.” This film’s director, Stephen Frears (“The Queen”) has a talent for it as well. I laughed a lot with this one, but for me, the “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” line can only partly be applied.

There’s enough emotional content here to make many people cry – because this is such a powerful subject. I didn’t cry, because it takes a lot for me to cry at a film. This might sound cheesy, but even though I didn’t cry on the outside, my soul ached for Philomena in parts – because she is just such a likeable and often relateable character. I relate to her because she likes “Big Momma’s House.” She at least laughs at a preview on hotel Pay Per View (also giving an idea of what year it is, because there are more new releases then older releases, so this film is set in 2000 or 2001). I hope she got around to watching that movie.

Score80/100