Top 5 Reasons Why High Fidelity Is One Of The Best Films Of The Noughties

Please note: you should have seen High Fidelity by now. If you haven't, this article may spoil parts of it for you. Which would serve you right.

5 - The List Structure

Lists are comforting. We make them in our everyday life. We make them to do our shopping. We make them of things we need 'to do'. We make them to categorise the films we've seen. High Fidelity is a film built around a list with a substructure of other lists within it. As a starting point, Rob (John Cusack) lists his top 5 break-ups and then works his way back through them, exploring the reasons and revisiting the ex-girlfriends before he inevitably comes full circle, back to current-nearly-ex-partner Laura (Iben Hjejle). In between those points we take in the 'top 5 musical crimes perpetuated by Stevie Wonder in the '80s and '90s' and the 'top 5 songs about death', amongst others. The structural conceit of High Fidelity - completely focused around 'top 5' lists - makes the film organised, comforting and coherent.

4 - The Location

Move a novel from the UK to the US and you've basically got two city choices; New York or Los Angeles. Director Stephen Frears eschews both of these and instead opts for Chicago. It's the perfect choice. Set this in either of the other two cities and this becomes a completely different film. Set it in New York and Rob isn't a near-down-and-out with a job that hardly pays the rent. Instead, he'd be a trendy hipster with an ultra-fashionable boutique store. Set it in LA and you don't get the rain. On it's own merits, Chicago looks alternatively great and suppressed by browns and greys, which only add to the underground vibe the film builds throughout.

3 - The Fourth Wall Breaking Narration

The narration itself, though brilliantly scripted, isn't the key thing here, the key thing is how utterly convincingly Cusack and Frears sell it to you. Case in point: at no stage of the film does anyone in it (apart from Cusack) recognise or acknowledge that what the character is doing is a bit odd. No-one walks in on him talking to himself (us), no one turns round to 'shush' him whilst he's whispering during the funeral scene, no one else attempts to communicate with us directly. The film is an absolute masterclass in directing fourth wall breaking by Frears.

2 - The Musical Moments Of Genius

Being a film that comes very close to making music its subject matter, there are plenty of musical moments. Two approach genius. The first is almost throwaway, glossed over and disappears in an instant: Bruce Springsteen shows up to talk to Rob. In his imagination. Its almost a nothing scene but it's the kind of delicious cameo you can't help but love and it typifies Rob; he's a semi-dreamer, looking for the answer to everything in the songs of his heroes. The second is much more subtle. As Dick (Todd Louiso) starts to chat up Annaugh (Sara Gilbert) over a shared love of Green Day, Rob sidles over, 'I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band'. Rob puts it on, the shoppers in the store start nodding. Frears doesn't even need to show you the scene where Rob sells his five copies. It nods to the end of the film: it has shown Rob to be the slyly clever, music-obsessed businessman he could be/is come the conclusion. Also: perfect track choice.

1 - The Human Characters

Rob - our hero - cheats on his girlfriend, indirectly causing her to abort their unplanned pregnancy. During the course of their separation, whilst still somewhat attempting to repair their relationship, Rob sleeps with Marie (Lisa Bonet), whilst Laura moves in with (and sleeps with) the odious Ian/Ray (Tim Robbins). Barry (Jack Black), rude and unlikeable throughout, gets throttled by Rob at one point. Dick is so wet he wouldn't be able to light a match. Of Rob's exes, only Penny (Joelle Carter) seems completely corpus mentus. Charlie (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is particularly horrendous. Liz (Joan Cusack) switches sides more often than a glory hunting football fan. Vince (Chris Rehmann) and Justin (Ben Carr) steal stuff. Everyone is flawed but, with the exception of Ian/Ray and, arguably, Charlie, you come to the end of the film liking every single one of them.

Sub-question: what moments just missed out?

Jack Black is still funny and possibly gets another moment of musical genius when Sonic Death Monkey morph into Barry Jive and The Uptown Five. On a similar note, at this point, John Cusack hadn't made 2012 and can still be considered to be channelling the coolness of Say Anything to great effect. The thing that came closest to making the list though? This is a rom-com. For guys. And you don't see a whole load of them.


  1. Ah man, this is just great. Great article. And in the spirit of lists....

    1.) Your thoughts on the fourth wall breaking are perfect. Much like the fourth wall breaking itself.

    2.) I agree the humanizing of the characters likely is its finest asset. I cherish that moment when Rob is so ecstatic to learn Laura has slept with Rob and then goes right out and sleeps with Marie. That is just classic. That is such a real human being.

    3.) As a Chicago resident, your words on this wonderful city warm my heart.

    4.) Springsteen. 'Nuff said.

    5.) My favorite shot in the whole film is the one where Rob is sitting, smoking, and staring straight ahead with that frown of frowns and the customer comes up to him and asks, "Do you have soul?"

  2. If I didn't love the 'I will now sell five copies...' scene so much then that soul scene would probably have made it in there - that or the opening 'what came first? The music or the misery?' monologue, which is also great.

    Great comment, cheers Nick!

  3. I love this film. Why?

    1. The music.

    2. Tim Robbins gets beat down in a fantasy sequence.

    3. Young kids stealing a bunch of records including a Brian Eno album and a Ryuchi Sakamoto album.

    4. The rules about songs for a funeral where you cannot use the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want".

    5. It's just so damn funny and romantic. What a romantic-comedy should be.

  4. Exactly, exactly, exactly, exactly, exactly! Especially #5, that gets x2 exactlys. Romantic comedies seem to have forgotten how to be romantic and funny, it's a rare pleasure (and it was a pleasure) to watch one that hasn't. I could stick this on again now (six days after last seeing it) and enjoy it all the more - what was the last romantic comedy you could say that about.

  5. Yes, it's an amazing movie and I think it's a movie which probably liked more by men than by women, although I'm not completely sure of that.

    I love the bit in the record store where you see the fantasy playing out of them beating up the guy, such a funny scene.

  6. Another great moment! There's just so many to choose from. Interesting that most of the favourites mentioned here happen in the record store.