People are shocked when they find out I haven't seen their favorite, classic, essential-addition-to-the-pop-cultural-canon film. So I made a list, and am working my way through. Join me as I watch your favorite movie for the first time.
THOUGHTS AND IMPRESSIONS UPON WATCHING "HIGH FIDELITY" FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2018:
Abby has asked me to guess what this film is about. I know nothing, not even the DVD cover image. Based on the word “fidelity” I guess that it’s about a married couple who are spies - who will they retain fidelity with, their spouse or the job?
Preview for Duece Bigelow, Male Gigalo.
Touchstone pictures presents...
Rock music. Headphone with a cord. John Cusack.
“Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was a miserable because I listened to pop music” - that is chiasmus, a rhetorical device that always sounds significant even if the sentences end up meaning nothing.
Is he talking to the camera?
Blonde lady Laura is dumping him. John Cusack mentions several other women have dumped him.
Five minutes into the movie and I already want to break up with John Cusack, and intuitively understand why every one of those women dumped him.
Now he is spitefully going through the "Top 5 List" of the women who have broken his heart, wondering why they left him.
I’m guessing it won’t occur to him they might have left him because he’s the kind of guy who would spitefully go through a "Top 5 List" of the women who have broken his heart?
Now he’s describing his college girlfriend Penny, and we see how he tried to grab her breasts and she resisted him, so he put his hands between her legs and she resisted him, and he repeats this several times while she pushes him off because she just wants to kiss, and then he dumps her for being a prude and I hate him.
Now he’s describing how he asked this other girl out immediately afterwards cause he heard she was easy. It is as if someone perfectly calibrated in a laboratory the precise protagonist I would most hate. Maybe it will be fun to hate him.
He owns a record store. Cool. That is fine.
Jack Black is saying lines but they don't make much... sense? They sound like someone ran his lines through a "random zany character" line generator.
They are all shouting at each other about what music to play in the record store and I am exhausted.
Next ex-girlfriend is Catherine Zeta Jones! “She was dramatic. She was exotic.” Ugh. Eye roll.
She dumps him. Now he’s screaming outside Catherine’s window, yelling that she’s a bitch.
High Fidelity is basically "Cat Person: the movie!"
Now he’s saying that he’s not the smartest guy but he’s not the dumbest guy cause he reads books, like The Unbearable Lightness of Being. This is a... parody of awful sad white men? It is unclear to me if the movie hates him too?
“That’s a COSBY SWEATER. A COSBY SWEATER.” - this movie is unintentional sweeping the Bingo card for rape culture as we understand it in 2018.
Dirty boys feel morally superior about their grungy music in their dusty record store. Would just like to assert that any Gen-Xers who really like this movie have no moral high-ground when it comes to hating hipsters. These boys are prototypical hipsters.
Update: it is becoming apparent to me that it will, in fact, *not* be fun to hate him.
Is sweet socially awkward record store employee in love with John Cusack?
Now John’s screaming at his mom. Nice that he doesn’t just hate the women he dates, he hates *all* women. At least he's consistent.
Now he’s man-splaining his own life? I don’t know how, I know it's *his* life, but somehow he’s not just sharing it, he’s man-splaining it.
Lisa Bonet!! She is singing! The boys are ogling! Oh no. She better not end up with any of these guys, with maybe the exception of sweet mild mannered record store employee.
“What’d I beat you? Tell you you were ugly? What’d I do to make you unhappy?” he yells at her and I. Hate. This. Guy.
I obviously guessed the plot wrong, but for the record: if John Cusack was my spy husband I would straight up assassinate him whether it was my assignment or not.
They didn’t sell the record to the sad desperate guy who really wants it, but are selling it to this other guy cause “he’s not a geek” and I hate them. I dislike men who believe that, because they are sad losers, their cruelty doesn’t actually mean they are cruel. Cause they’re not jocks! Cause they have trouble with women! How could they be cruel?
I'm not saying you shouldn't like this film, but I am saying it would not shock me if most militant incels *love* this film, and that should maybe make you pause and examine anything else you share in that Venn diagram.
OH MY GOD JOHN CUSACK JUST CALLED HIS FRIEND, WHO IS JOAN CUSACK.
Now he’s in a jealous rage about this "Ian" guy his ex-girlfriend might be dating.
Joan Cusack gets to scream at her brother that he’s an asshole. That’s got to feel great, and release some long-pent-up teenage frustration.
Oh, now when John Cusack is talking about his ex Laura he is being tender and sad. That is interesting to watch.
Ohh okay so he KNOWS he’s an asshole.
Now he’s explaining the four things he did wrong. This is the first time I’ve been interested in him this whole film, an HOUR in, when he starts owning his awful list of things he did to Laura. Just an ounce of self-awareness, reckoning with himself, instead of self-righteous woundedness, is compelling to watch.
I need a gif of Joan saying “That is shocking. That is shocking.”
The thing is, I often like awful asshole characters. They are interesting! I enjoy watching narcissistic, terrible male characters tremendously, and I can also enjoy hating them, or caring for them and then being disappointed by them, too. Characters with complete ownership of what makes them an awful character (Iago!), or complete, pathological denial of what makes them awful (Don Draper!) can be psychologically fascinating to experience. But this film seems to insist John Cusack is both the wounded bird AND the awful asshole. That I must find him awful but, obviously, root for him and believe he is entitled to the rewards he seems certain he is owed, is lame. It's often the "awful" character who are counter-cultural, who do the things we aren't okay with in order to get what they want. But it is apparent that this film thinks he is owed the thing he wants, a woman, even if he destroys her. Which is not counter-cultural awful, it's regular day-to-day patriarchy awful. And that’s not even infuriating in an interesting way, it’s worse: it's just boring.
I can hear a certain kind of movie person saying “she doesn’t get what the film is doing, that’s why she finds it boring.” Is it possible that I get *exactly* what the film is doing, and that’s *why* I find it boring?
This scene. A confrontation with Penny, the girlfriend he broke up with because she wouldn’t have sex with him quickly enough as teenagers. She painfully and angrily (and off-puttingly) describes an experience after he dumped her for being “tight” that “wasn’t rape but wasn’t not rape”. It is unexpected and interesting. After she calls him an asshole and storms out, all he takes from that interaction is the realization that HE had dumped her. She hadn’t dumped him after all, he misremembered! That is the joke of the scene, how awful he is, how funny it is that he skips the human empathy part and jumps to narcissism. To portray is not to endorse, I get that the film itself is laughing at how he missed the point and is awful. But it is not interesting and not fun. She has LIFE and some fire and a pretty unsettling couple of sentences to deliver, and then we have to zoom in on his one-note ignorance, his boring soliloquy where he does not investigate interesting questions, just confidently and incorrectly observes himself and his world. There is nothing in his eyes. When his face fills the screen, the film’s blood pressure drops.
Aww sweet mild mannered guy found a sweet mild mannered girl! Bonding over records - she shares a music fact and he deems her “correct”. See - this is a stupid boy thing that boys do, but in this context it is funny.
“What are you making 60, 70k a year? What are you doing in this shithole?” I love how that was *such* a big salary then!
That was a joke at first, but now I’m reflecting on how much I miss having a salary. #freelancer
Oh Lisa Bonet! Don’t hook up with John Cusack.
Lisa radiates charisma and depth and warmth. She is SO good. So much dynamic energy. He can’t even tamp down the energy of this scene with his flaccid performance, she makes him look compelling by proxy. This is a great scene.
John Cusack: "compelling-by-proxy."
Okay Lisa Bonet is handling herself just fine, she’s survived worse than John Cusack. “I'd never let that asshole stand in the way of a good fuck.” she says about her ex, whom she is obviously still mourning. She is a BREATH of fresh air. I don’t crave morality, I crave someone whose moral grayness is *of interest*.
“We’re not going to get off this phone until you agree to get a drink with me” — John yells into the phone at his ex. Do not negotiate with terrorists, Laura! (Spoiler: she does. They get drinks.)
“So have you slept with him yet?” — oh my GOSH he is EXHAUSTING, he JUST slept with Lisa Bonet, and now he’s mad and crying cause she won't say she DIDN’T sleep with the man she’s now LIVING with?
Bored again. Jack Black does something silly at the record store. A flicker of light. Back to John Cusack’s boring face. I eat sour punch straws to try and feel anything at all.
One time a guy similar to this John Cusack character insisted my drunk friend leave a party to join him in his parked car so they could "talk", so I spent 45 minutes pretending to be on the phone outside that college party while he screamed/cried/tried to manipulate her and darted frustrated glances at me, that I pretended not to notice as I paced and talked to myself in order to stay in eye-shot so he wouldn't physically harm her, coerce her, or take off. All of that to say, I suspect my 45 minute pretend conversation had a more compelling dramatic character arc than this film.
Catherine Zeta Jones is back in town and called him! What is this washing over me? Oh, it’s relief that someone can, I don’t know, fill up a screen! It’s been dark in this here film since Lisa walked out of the frame.
Catherine Z-J is condescending and sexy and interesting and refuses to play his games and lays into him all the reasons she dumped him without so much lifting an eyebrow and she’s terrible and terrible fun!
Ian, Laura’s new guy, shows up at the record store and is awful too. (Laura you could do so much better than either of these guys. Or maybe you couldn’t. The film seems utterly ambivalent about you, tbh.) He is at least awful in an interesting way. Or: the film lets Ian be awful without asking us to root for him at the same time. John Cusack imagines punching him, but doesn’t. Whatever. Would I could will myself to care.
Awww mild-mannered guy has a date with the girl he met at the record store, Anna! Him finding love is the best part of this film so far.
Do I hate John Cusack’s character, or do I hate John Cusack? Hmmm.
Maybe (MAYBE) this film could be pulled off by a different actor, by someone more charming than John Cusack, or someone less charming than John Cusack thinks he is.
It's as if the film is saying "Oh my goooosh, what's he gonna do neeeext..." And I say, "I don't know, something awful?" and the film interrupts me by saying "Noo, something AWFUL!!" and I'm like "...yeah." and the film's like "YEAH! *flourishes guitar*"
Update: I fell asleep. It is so exhausting to hate a character this boring.
Abby explains what happened —
Ex-girlfriend Laura has a listening party.
She books Jack Black’s band.
John Cusack flirts with a girl from a magazine, makes Laura jealous.
John Cusack asks girlfriend Laura to marry him. (?!?!?!?!)
She says “you don’t actually want to get married” and he says “that’s for the sentiment” (?? I was still half asleep, idk.)
And then the party goes well, turns out Jack Black’s band is good.
I dislike this movie. Maybe it was doing something compelling when it came out, but even if that's the case I don't think it holds up now. It might be fun to satirize this kind of narcissistic, sad, manipulative, aggressive white man. It is definitely not fun to reward him, and to ask me to care about his well-being for more than an hour.