Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Flick of The Day: High Fidelity

Adapting a classic novel for the screen is a difficult proposition. If you swerve too far from the source material, you alienate the core fanbase. On the other hand, if you are too slavish to the material, the film doesn't stand on its own two feet as a work of art. There is of course a happy medium and today's flick of the day, High Fidelity, is a pitch perfect adaptation of Nick Hornby's wonderful novel.

Rob, played by the terribly likeable John Cusack, is breaking up with his girlfriend Laura. He begins to think back through his relationship failures over the years, in the hope of gaining insight as to why Laura left him. While he works through these in flashbacks, Rob expands on his life as the owner of a poorly located record shop, Championship Vinyl, where Rob and his oddball staff played by the brilliant Jack Black and Todd Louiso spend their days talking music, compiling top 5 lists and generally treating their customers poorly. Rob comes to realize that each of his failed relationships had a different cause and that he isn't doomed to be dumped. Ultimately Laura wants more from the relationship then Ron had been prepared  to give and to Rob's horror moves in with uber-annoying hippie Ian, a wonderfully over the top performance from Tim Robbins. Can Ron and Laura work it out?
This really isn't your standard rom-com about a man with relationship trouble who happens to own a record store. It is so much more. It is a film about people who put popular culture at the centre of their lives to the detriment of everything else. Rob's problem is that he still lives like a teenage boy, obsessed with music. It is very true to the source novel, despite shifting the action to Cusack's native Chicago. You don't have to a music snob to enjoy the film but there are plenty of in jokes to satisfy the trendy obscurists. The Beta Band sales drive is a personal favourite and overall there is a lot of humour. Jack Black makes the most of his turn as the obnoxious Barry, capturing perfectly the character Hornby wrote.

                                              Barry's Customer: Hi, do you have the song "I Just Called To Say I Love  You?" It's for my daughter's birthday. 
Barry: Yea we have it. 
Barry's Customer: Great, Great, can I have it? 
Barry: No, no, you can't. 
Barry's Customer: Why not? 
Barry: Well, it's sentimental tacky crap. Do we look like the kind of store that sells I Just Called to Say I Love You? Go to the mall.

Stephen Frears is of course an old hand at this kind of thing, having adapted two of Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy for the screen amongst other things. In short there is much to enjoy here.
The film, of course, is possessed of a great soundtrack with literally hundreds of songs and snippets of songs slipped into the film. It illustrates Rob and his friends obsession and carries the film along nicely.

Rob: I can see now I never really committed to Laura. I always had one foot out the door, and that prevented me from doing a lot of things, like thinking about my future and... I guess it made more sense to commit to nothing, keep my options open. And that's suicide. By tiny, tiny increments.

All in all, a great film adaptation of a classic novel. Of course the novel is still more enjoyable and better somehow but this is as fine an adaptation as I have seen in awhile. The script and the characterisations are perfect. Cusack excels as the man-child, while Jack Black plays the ignorant clown better then anyone else. If you haven't seen it, check it out.

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