• Reel Reviews

In High Fidelity, Nothing’s More Important Than Music

written by: on January 26, 2012

“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands—literally thousands—of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

So goes the opening monologue of High Fidelity by the film’s protagonist Rob, played by John Cusack. To him, owner of fictional Chicago record store Championship Vinyl, and the creators of High Fidelity, nothing is more important than the music.

While romantic comedies are a dime a dozen, what’s unique about High Fidelity is its relationship between the soundtrack and Rob’s ability to incorporate into the songs the subject matter on screen. Inundated by music and his record store, Rob organizes and relates everything in his life to music, mixed tapes and top five lists. These lists include his worst breakups, track one/side ones, things to miss about Laura, his newly ex-girlfriend, music crimes perpetuated by Stevie Wonder in the ’80s and ’90s, and more. In order to save his relationship with Laura, Rob must first track down ex-girlfriends and analyze what went wrong. The film follows Rob as he revisits his top five most memorable breakups.

The soundtrack, comparable to a mixed tape, is a reflection of Rob’s character, as well as a semblance of his relationship downfalls. Because Rob considers himself a music elitist, it must have been a challenge for the filmmakers to select songs that not only fit the theme of the movie, but also the main character’s tastes for certain artists and genres. The music also mirrors what’s happening in the film, capturing the comedy or despair of each scene, or cluing the audience in to what’s going to happen. As with the lyrics from the opening track, “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (13th Floor Elevators): “You’re gonna wake up morning as the sun greets the dawn/You’re gonna look around in your mind, girl, you’re gonna find that I’m gone,” the audience can sense what is to come.

In revisiting ex-girlfriend No. 2  Penny Hardwick, Rob lists her top five recording artists: Carly Simon, Carole King, James Taylor, Cat Stevens and Elton John, as Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” plays in the background. On screen, there are flashbacks of a teenage Rob and Penny making out, while Elton John sings: “I remember when rock was young/Me and Suzie had so much fun/Holding hands and skimming stones/Had an old gold Chevy and a place of my own.”

Rob’s biggest problem with Penny? He couldn’t cop enough of a feel, so he dumped her.

In tracking down ex-girlfriend No. 4, the precocious and arrogant Charlie, Rob eventually reunites with her and is able to see her in a different light. He is able to mentally work through the relationship and realizes Charlie wasn’t as eccentric and savvy as she seemed. The song, “I’m Wrong About Everything” plays, which is more or less an anthem for Rob’s life. John Wesley sings: “I thought I was immortal a little while ago/I thought that I was right but now I know/I’m wrong about everything.”

Though he may not have been enlightened upon reuniting with the ex-girlfriends on his list, Rob continues his battle to win back Laura, who has moved out of his apartment and in with another man. He meets up with her at a bar  to ask if she’s slept with the new man, but Rob becomes overrun with emotion and abandons Laura. As he runs home in the rain, “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” plays: “Oh sweet nuthin’/You know she ain’t got nothing at all/Oh sweet nuthin’/She ain’t got nothing at all.”

Whereas some of the songs echo Rob’s emotional struggle and anguish, such as “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” (The Velvet Underground), “Fallen For You” (Sheila Nicholls) and “Always See Your Face” (Love), other songs directly correspond with what’s going on in the current scene (i.e., songs that are performed live or are playing at Rob’s record store). These include “Let’s Get It On” (Jack Black), “Lo Boob Oscillator” (Stereolab) and “Dry the Rain” (The Beta Band).

Although countless aspects of “High Fidelity” are done remarkably well, what is arguably most memorable and substantial is the soundtrack. None of the songs are original scores, which tells us the filmmakers who pieced this collection or “mixed tape” together are obviously music lovers. The movie ends, ever appropriately, with Rob (who eventually gets Laura back) at his stereo creating a mixed tape.