Sunday, 11 October 2009

I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like... Books, records, films - these things matter.

No 446 - High Fidelity
Director - Stephen Frears

Narration is a tricky cinematic feat. It is perfectly normal for a book to be written in first person, or to be written in a style that directly targets its audience.
"You may be wondering, dear reader, why I - a humble plumber from Constantinople did blah blah blah...."
However this is a very difficult thing to convey in filmic terms. A narrator and breaking the fourth wall is a very risky move. Which can sometimes work and sometimes feel like a lazy inability to convey emotion.

Rather than a narration, we have a protagonist who is also the narrator. The riskiest of risky moves as he flips out of the film to tell the viewer something, whilst surrounded by oblivious co-stars and extras.
This film presents itself as a story of love and music, but it isn't. It is a story about lists. John Cusack's Rob has a near-autistic obsession with lists. He loves music and records, OBSESSES over music and records because it can be compartmentalised, put into lists. Top 5 side 1 track 1s, Top 10 live performances between 1969 and 1973 etc etc. This film is also about his inability to grasp relationships and romance. He represents it as this big, oppressive, confusing entity which he can't grasp - because he can't organise it.
I would not be surprised, ladies and gentleman, if Mr Rob Gordon is perhaps on the autistic spectrum.

It would also explain his store which is deliberately elitist, difficult to find and rude. The only reason people go there is it is the only place with the records they need in stock.

I find it hard to like Rob for a lot of these reasons. But mainly because he feels that he deserves better, that a better life should be handed to him. He spends 90% of the film complaining. Breaking down former situations and focusing on the negatives, bitching, moaning and being infuriatingly 'woe is me' about everything.

The film basically follows Rob after he has been dumped and he dismantles his top 5 worse break ups and revisits his exes to get closure. Slowly he starts to realise that he isn't the destructive force he feared he was. That the relationships ended naturally (or in one excellent scene, that he himself ended the relationship).
Each moment is introduced with a flashback of the relationship, and they are faultless. I don't if it is the genius of John Cusack as an actor or if it is excellent use of make up and wardrobe. But, teenage Rob and Mid 20s Rob all the way up to present day Rob. Each is a perfect and real feeling snapshot. Even the kid they get to play 14 year old Rob looks and acts like John Cusack, it is a really impressive feat.

I also love that there are some really weird choices for cameos which motivate Rob on his journey. Firstly Tim Robbins as Ian, the man whom Laura (Rob's most recent ex) has left him for. Despite the cameo in Anchorman, I still see Tim Robbins as a SERIOUS ACTOR - mainly, I think, down to Shawshank Redemption. So I found it really odd to see him appearing as this middle aged business orientated - new ager full of self importance and pomposity. I went to uni in Brighton. I know the type.
His cameo also leads to one of the best scenes. Due to the fact that this film acknowledges it is a film (through John Cusack's to camera narration) it means that a singular scene of fantasy can be forgiven. When it is as brilliant as this - it is more than forgiven, it is LAUDED.

The only other flight of fantasy in the film is the excellent cameo from The Boss himself, Springsteen - who tells Rob to go on this journey of self discovery. That cameo is excellent because Springsteen is excellent. Like a Boss.

These individual reunions help him to discover something. He is still in love with his current ex and finally Rob's character begins to deepen.
He seems to spend the entire film expecting the worst. He expects the worst from his relationships so he's always on the look out for a better option (which naturally leads to his relationships failing). So the finale of the film is great because it proves him wrong on so many levels.
Firstly - he gets back together with Laura and the film's journey of reunions showed him that the 'fantasy woman' doesn't exist and that he does love Laura and he does want to be with her.

Secondly the 'no good punks' who clutter up his kids are talented musicians and people like their music. So he promotes them.

Finally (and most refreshingly, for me as a viewer) - after an entire film of mocking his colleague Barry's band. They play and they are excellent. Barry is the scene stealing dervish of arrogant chaos that is Jack Black - and Rob is convinced that his band, Sonic Death Monkey, will be awful. Laura asks them to play a gala event and Rob tries to get them to back out.

Luckily the band is fab - and Rob's reaction is the most important part of the film.

This is not a film about music. This isn't even about lists. It is about realising there is more to the world than the impossible dream and to embrace the good that surrounds you rather than focus on the flaws.

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