High Fidelity has the distinction of celebrating two milestone anniversaries this year. Nick Hornby’s bestselling novel, published in 1995, is celebrating 25 years. The film, released in 2000, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. For those of us for whom, as the protagonist, Rob Gordon, pop culture is of the utmost importance, this novel and film matter.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, or if it’s been a while, let me sum it up quickly. Rob, the misanthropic owner of a record shop called Championship Vinyl and fan of top five lists, loves music and his girlfriend. When things don’t work out with his girlfriend, he begins a journey of self-discovery to figure out why his romances never work out. Hilarity ensues, but there’s a lot of heart as well.
If you’re curious about the differences between the film and the novel, there isn’t much. The biggest difference is that the novel is set in London, and the film is set in Chicago. (A bit of trivia–if you ever find yourself in Wicker Park in Chicago, the building next to Nick’s Beer Garden on Milwaukee Avenue was the location of Championship Vinyl.) Both focus on Rob’s relationship with Laura and his quest to visit his old flames to understand why his relationships never last.
Rob asks the audience at the beginning of his quest what came first–the music or the misery. Is he miserable because he listens to pop music, or does he listen to pop music because he is miserable? Let’s talk about both.
I’m a fan of movie soundtracks, and this is one of the best. It makes sense since Rob is so into music. I would consider the soundtrack to be one of the main characters in the film. It’s as eclectic as I’d expect from a guy who owns a record store, ranging from well-known bands like the Kinks and the Velvet Underground to less well-known bands (at least to me before I heard this soundtrack) like Stereolab and Smog. There are songs for when you’re sad, songs for when you want to dance, and even an incredibly sweet, romantic song (Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)”). One of the highlights is Jack Black as his character Barry covering Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”. (It’s also a great part of the movie.) And yes, it’s true. If you play “Dry the Rain,” by the Beta Band, you will sell five copies of the EP it appears on.
As much as I love and relate to Rob in some aspects, he’s got some work to do to be in a relationship. He’s acerbic, moody, and he definitely judges people harshly before looking at himself. We get to see his journey from not-so-great boyfriend to someone who wants to be better for himself and for those around him. Good guy or not, though, he makes a killer mixtape.
The movie is well-cast. John Cusack is perfect as Rob, and Iben Hjelje plays his long-suffering girlfriend Laura convincingly. I love Todd Louiso and Jack Black as Rob’s employees. They’re both hilarious in their own ways. The film also features cameos by John’s sister Joan, Tim Robbins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor, and Lisa Bonet. Each brings their own style to their roles, making the film an overall cohesive telling of the story.
High Fidelity has stood the test of time. It’s still popular enough for the soundtrack to have been released on vinyl in the past few years. It’s a movie I can revisit at any time. This year, Hulu released a series based on the novel/film, with Zoe Kravitz starring as Rob this time around. (Zoe is, herself, an easter egg nod to the film since her mother Lisa Bonet made an appearance.) It’s a faithful adaptation, changing the city to New York, among a few other changes, but most of it is intact. I am excited to see how far it carries beyond this season.
If you haven’t experienced High Fidelity, I highly recommend it, especially if you love dusty old vinyl and ’80s stars like John Cusack. I’m guessing it will be in your top five, with a bullet. And if not, maybe it will inspire you to make a mixtape.