Stephen Frear’s High Fidelity is not just a superb movie. It’s also a highly skillful adaptation. The original Nick Hornby novel is set in London and follows the thirty-ish record store owner Rob as he tries to figure out his life, particularly the dating side of it all. In the process, he obsesses about music, compiles ranking lists all manner of things and makes plenty of observations about his generation and gender. The film changes the setting to Chicago, yet maintains the spirit of the book very faithfully. It does this very cleverly yet carefully. The book might emphasise certain typically English qualities (glumness, dry wit) while the film focuses a bit more on American characteristics (a must-do-something attitude, obsession about superlatives). The book never strikes me as American, and the film never strikes me as English. But they’re still very much the same story with the same characters. Rob suffers from the kind of mid-life crisis only people in their late twenties/early thirties go through, and this is something fairly universal. “Why did I fall in love with that girl? Why did we break up? Why haven’t I gotten farther in life than I have? What is wrong with everyone? What is wrong with me?”
Rob, played by John Cusack in the movie, often breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the camera to provide some of his inner monologues that make up the majority of the book. Oddly, this doesn’t feel as intrusive as it probably should. One might call this a lazy way to bring the written word to the screen, but I’ll take Cusack directly adressing the viewer over a vacant narrator any day of the week. The film makes it work.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Jack Black’s breakout (and career-best) performance as Rob’s co-worker Barry. Full of vitriolic energy, he steals the movie at every chance he gets. It’s a joy to behold, much like the film at large.