Volume 93, Issue 98

Tuesday, April 4, 2000


Fidelity lost in transmission

Even for teen fare, Skulls just a bit too thick

Halos ready to lunge for brass ring

Ellington sends jazz fans Home

Fidelity lost in transmission

Gazette file photo

By Aaron St. John
Gazette Staff

Adapting novels to film is a pursuit that has reached the point where, in many cases, a book is optioned for possible use before it even hits the shelves.

Despite the prevalence of this practice, adaptations still appear to be something that prove difficult for most filmmakers to accomplish. For every successful translation, like Fight Club, there is a major disaster, like Snow Falling On Cedars. High Fidelity falls somewhere in between these two categories.

Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, High Fidelity is the story of a record store owner who goes through a mid-life crisis after his romantic life falls apart. On the positive side, the cast is phenomenal. John Cusack – who may be the most underrated actor in Hollywood – plays record store owner Rob Gordon and is wonderful throughout the film, delivering one of his best performances to date. Relative newcomers Jack Black and Todd Lousio are also great as Rob's friends and employees. Black's portrayal of the rude, opinionated and arrogant Barry should ring familiar for anyone who has ever spent any time in an independent record store. Iben Hjejle is also quite good as Rob's emotionally wrecked girlfriend.

High Fidelity also features several big names in smaller supporting roles. Lisa Bonet, who hasn't worked much since The Cosby Show, does a fine job playing a club singer with whom Rob becomes smitten. Likewise, Tim Robbins is hilarious as a slimy conflict resolution counsellor, while Bruce Springsteen turns up during a fantasy sequence in a memorable cameo.

Even with all the fantastic performances and a razor sharp script (the dialogue is never anything less than perfect), High Fidelity is not an entirely satisfying picture. The story, which worked well in book format, has several slow points on film. There are digressions that aren't central to the plot, such as flashbacks and extended sequences in which Cusack talks directly to the camera. While none of these scenes are any worse than the rest of the film, the fact that they draw you away from the central story causes them to be somewhat laborious.

Additionally, there have been a few changes made which bring the picture down. Cusack's character, Rob Gordon, comes off for most of the movie as a whining, pathetic loser and it's hard to care about a film when its protagonist is not a likeable person. A similar problem is found in the film's resolution – without giving anything away, it's just a little too neat and easy. One last quibble is that most of the book's fantastic (and accurate) depictions of hardcore music fanatics have been glossed over in favour of the romantic elements of the story.

To sum it up, High Fidelity is an amusing film with superb performances all around, but the weaknesses are too much for it to overcome. This is the inherent problem with this kind of endeavour – what works in book form doesn't necessarily translate into movies. Perhaps it's time Hollywood stopped looking to novels as source material and concentrated on creating original scripts, so audiences aren't faced with more great books being nearly ruined in film translations.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000