(The Problem With) High Fidelity

This is going to sound strange, so deep breath in, and bear with me. The problem with High Fidelity is John Cusack.

There, I said it. I feel much better now.

You can disagree with me if you want. You’re wrong, but you can disagree. It is physically possible. It’s just not intellectually advisable.

There’s nothing wrong with John Cusack. He was just miscast. I mean, I get how Rob Gordon might seem like the grownup version of Lloyd Dobler, but he’s not even close. Rob Gordon is actually a pretty pathetic guy, but because he’s played by Cusack, some accidental, unintentional coolness is rubbed off. And I get how some underachieving young men might misguidedly put him on a pedestal. Rob is the ultimate fanboy nerd, but he’s the least losery of his friends, the least socially inept. And he puffs himself up by being snobby about his pop culture obsession. Fine. But the thing about Rob Gordon is: he’s not a good guy.

Nick Hornby makes that pretty damn clear in the book, and the character tells us this repeatedly himself in the film: “I am a fucking asshole,” he tells us, but then Cusack flashes those deep brown puppy dog eyes and we feel conflicted. He’s doing and saying pretty shitty things, but it’s Cusack, so he MUST be likable, right?

He’s not likable. He’s an ungrateful little shit. He’s a womanizer with a serious case of (male, as if it needs to be said) entitlement. He skulks about being a rude human being, a stalkery ex, and a very bad boyfriend. But Cusack is such a charmer, and he’s got such a sweet, sympathetic history with cinema, that we ascribe way more positive feelings toward this guy than the character actually deserves.

At one point, when he’s on a self-serving rampage of reconnecting with ex-girlfriends in order to reassure himself that he’s basically blameless, Penny tells reminds him that in fact, HE broke up with HER because she wouldn’t have sex with him (“I wasn’t interested in Penny’s nice qualities, just her breasts, and therefore she was no good to me.”). Her heartbreak led to what basically amounts to rape, and years of sex phobia, and he’s so relieved and satisfied with that answer that he’s spurred to pursue even more ex-girlfriends, never mind the fact that the one right in front of him has just run out of the restaurant in tears. The man is a sociopath and I’m not even kidding. The next ex-girlfriend he visits is thickly mired in depression, and he practically asks us to pat him on the back for not taking advantage of her.

Rob is jealous and possessive and harassing. He is the stuff restraining orders are made of. And he doesn’t even learn a lesson. In the end, the woman who dumped him takes him back because, having just suffered the death of her father, she’s simply too tired, too beaten down by his coersion, to fend him off. That is not a getting back together story that anyone should feel good about, and almost as fast as they can reconcile, he’s off chasing yet another manic pixie fantasy cunt because he can’t even for 10 seconds actually be the nice guy he pretends to be. This is the height of toxic masculinity, but because it’s wearing a cute and cuddly John Cusack body, we fail to see it. We root for him because he’s less of a greaseball than Tim Robbins’s Ian. But being 10% less of a douche doesn’t make you not a douche. It doesn’t make you a nice guy. It doesn’t make you deserving of anyone’s love. Rob Gordon is not a hero. He’s a romantic failure and a social liability and if we made a follow-up to the movie today, he’d be living in his mom’s basement screaming at her to make him some Hamburger Helper as he trashed-talked 12 year olds on League of Legends.

22 thoughts on “(The Problem With) High Fidelity

  1. mikeladano

    I just like the line about how they cater to people looking for “original, not re-released (underlined) Frank Zappa albums”. Nothing reminds me of working in the Store more than that. I was Rob in many ways too. Probably an asshole.

    Liked by 3 people

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  2. raistlin0903

    Don’t hate me…but I have honestly never been much of a fan of him period. Most of the movies he plays in, I tend to not enjoy. I just don’t really like his style of acting sorry…😅😅

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  3. Robyn

    John Cusack was going to run away with me and we were going to live happily ever after. He ADORED me. He just never found me, that’s all. But I made sure I watched all his films. You’re right – I didn’t like this movie. The book was okay. I think the only Hornby book I liked as a movie (and I rarely see the movie of the book I read) is About A Boy (Hugh Grant does play a loveable prick well). This role didn’t fit Cusack. You couldn’t hate him. Well, I knew I couldn’t hate my true love so I took it out on the film itself.

    Liked by 3 people

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    1. Jay Post author

      Haha, were you in Chicago enough though?
      I mean, how hard did you really try?

      And I TOTALLY agree about About A Boy – and I own that one too, so expect that soon.

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Robyn

        Well, technically in my head I saw him coming for me. So all I had to do was walk past my window to see if he was there yet – I must’ve been out that day and broke his heart 🙂
        Oh good! Love that one. Maybe it’s the accent? Because even in his total ass moments you still kind of like him and laugh. Can’t wait to read your post!

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  4. Reely Bernie

    Diabolical, Jay. It’s funny – I am not a Cusack fan, and people think I look like him. I loathe most of his roles, but I liked him in HF because he plays a “prick” so well (at least when I saw this several years ago). His puppy dog eyes bug me, so I’m constantly bugged by him. I even thought he took the air out of Con Air. Hmmm…I’ll have to revisit this one. I remember him as a likable jerkhead. Jack Black was brilliant.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, I used to like this one more too. I guess I’ve grown up enough to recognize a wolf in sheep’s clothing!
      You must admit though – he is a pretty handsome man!

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. ninvoid99

    I do love this and I wonder what the hell happened to John Cusack? He’s been in some really bad movies lately and is playing roles that he’s totally miscast for as well. I actually liked the Rob Gordon character because he is flawed and obsessive but he also begins to acknowledge his own flaws towards the end. Especially in how he was thinking more with his dick than his brain. I loved that scene of him and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the woman who broke his heart where when we first see her. She is this object of affection who is so interesting for what she has to say. When we meet her again, she is the embodiment of total pretentiousness and was never interesting at all.

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  6. observationblogger

    I thought he did a great job in this movie. I’m particularly fond of it because of the Springsteen and Dylan references. That aside, I’m afraid he reflected how a great many men felt in that era and still do today.

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  7. Orca Flotta

    I always thought HiFi’s greatest problem was its transformation of location from UK to USA. Like so many Hornby books it doesn’t translate well and hardly survives the travel across the big dipper. And, yes, Cusack plays our lovable asshole like an American, which makes him less likeable. This movie was tonally uneven if I remember correct but fortunately I forgot I’ve ever watched it five minutes after the end credits rolled.

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  8. John Charet

    Great post 🙂 Though I respectfully disagree with you regarding John Cusack’s casting in the film, I do not think that it is scandulous that you feel the way you do about the film adaptation of High Fidelity. As you probably know, Nick Hornby’s book was set in the UK whereas the film version was set in the US. Though I am aware that that is not your reason for disliking either the film or the casting of John Cusack. Though Hornby loved the resulting film, I read that diehard fans of the book were disappointed by it or at least felt it was a disappointment compared to the book. Personally, I thought it was a very good film, but that is just me. Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. peggyatthemovies

    My first thought when reading your opening lines was screaming.. no no no NO NO!!! But after reading I get it. This happened to come on HBO about a year ago and I sat down to re-watch it and I simply love it. But forgot that people like Jack Black were in it.. It was a fun revisit no matter who stars in it. btw.. when I was younger I wanted to marry John Cusack so there’s that too! hahahaha

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  10. J.

    I never really loved the film as much as I loved the book, but on watching the film fairly recently with Mrs (not so) VinylDaft I thought “wait, he’s more of a dick than I remember” (or thought at the time). However, given they shifted the location, I think Cusack was okay… cause, well, he has that whole insecure thing going on and he plays an asshole pretty well.

    If they made this now, Jesse Eisenberg would be Rob, amaright?

    Or maybe Jason Bateman, cause we all kinda like Bateman.

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