Championship vinyl--a Chicago record store specializing in antique discs--provides Rob Gordon (John Cusack) with a rich life but no better than a marginal living. Mostly it exists to give him a place to argue with his employees (a hilariously passive Todd Louiso and a manically aggressive Jack Black) about musical arcana.
Rob is the kind of guy whose nostalgic obsessions prevent him from forming lasting relationships. As High Fidelity opens, the latest of them, Laura (a lovely newcomer named Iben Hjejle), is packing her bags. This causes Rob to start making a list of his most haunting breakups, beginning back in grade school. He and his music-store buddies are like that; they'd rather make lists (mainly about the pop past) than do something fresh with their lives.
In other words, High Fidelity, of which Cusack is also a co-writer and producer, is a comedy born of depression. Based on Nick Hornby's novel, High Fidelity takes the form of an intermittent monologue, at once glum and knowing, done directly to the camera. Cusack's Rob leads us in and out of various scenes from his sad past and his various current efforts to come to grips with it. This is a daring strategy: the potential for boredom is large. But Cusack is awfully good at calm desperation (or is it barely suppressed frenzy?). We await, with suspenseful impatience, his finally taking arms against his sea of troubles.
Cusack goes back to the marvelous Grosse Pointe Blank with some of the writers, to The Grifters with director Stephen Frears, to the cradle with his sister Joan, who plays a smart, tart role here. That could have resulted in a kind of hermetic insiderism--a desire to break each other up and leave us out of the joke. Instead, they have made something that we can all laugh at--sometimes raucously, sometimes tenderly, often ruefully.
--By Richard Schickel