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Summer Nights Movie Critic: Part Two

Ray Pawulich

The following post was written by Ray Pawulich. Ray currently lives in Indianapolis. He went to film school for a couple years, so he thinks he knows what he’s talking about. Here’s part two of his series on Summer Nights here at the IMA.

Every so often, someone tells me I remind them of John Cusack. When this comes from strangers, it’s kind of flattering. But when it comes from your own mother, it can be a little disturbing.

Such was the case in the spring of 2000 when my mother called to let me know she’d seen a movie called High Fidelity and insisted I’d enjoy it too. According to her, Cusack’s character in the film, Rob Gordon, was “just like” me.

On the surface, this was not a very complimentary observation. After all, Rob Gordon is no Lloyd Dobler, the tried-and-true romantic Cusack played in Say Anything. Nor is Rob as cool as Martin Blank, Cusack’s detached-yet-vulnerable hitman from Gross Pointe Blank. Instead, he’s neurotic, jealous, self-defeating, co-dependent and completely incapable of committing to anything. (Thanks mom.)

Image courtesy of PHOTOFEST

Image courtesy of PHOTOFEST

Luckily for my fragile ego, High Fidelity, as directed by Stephen Frears, is sympathetic to Rob’s plight. While the film is not afraid to show Rob as unlikeable, it’s also willing to give him the occasional victory, including the ultimate one (spoiler altert: he gets his act together). But perhaps most endearingly, High Fidelity holds up Rob’s passion for pop music (and its ability to shape his reality) as something totally understandable… and maybe even a little bit cool.

In so doing, Frears and company manage to faithfully capture the spirit of Nick Hornby’s original novel — and raise some interesting questions. What does it mean to deeply identify with the film adaptation of a book about a guy who can’t decide if pop music has made him miserable or if he listens to pop music because he’s already miserable? Is life best understood in reference to our favorite movies, books and songs?

For the Rob Gordons of the world, the answer seems to be yes. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, isn’t the purpose of all art to help us make sense of the human experience?

Of course, that might be overstating the case. High Fidelity works not because it taps into something primal about the human condition but because it’s, you know, entertaining. Between Jack Black’s breakout performance, a killer soundtrack, and endlessly smart dialogue, it’s got quite enough to appeal to less navel-gazing cineastes.

And yet for those of us who see a bit of ourselves reflected in Rob Gordan, High Fidelity is more than the sum of its parts. That’s why nearly a decade after its release, it remains on many All Time Top Five lists — including mine. So, really… thanks mom. You were right.


‘High Fidelity’ is playing at the IMA this Friday, August 28 as part of the Summer Nights film series.

Filed under: Current Events, Film, Guest Bloggers

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