Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Film Appreciation - Songs About Heartbreak

Film Appreciation continues as Cody Hamman writes about the (love) life of an appreciator in the 2000 drama High Fidelity.

Rob Gordon is miserable. As we meet him, he's breaking the fourth wall (something he does throughout the film) to ponder which came first - the music or the misery? Did spending his days listening to pop songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery, and loss make him miserable, or was he drawn to these songs because he was already miserable?

Rob's live-in girlfriend Laura is leaving him, the details of why are given to us gradually over the course of the film. As a person who's just had their heart broken does, Rob plays off the pain at first - this is no big deal, he'll be fine, previous girls have hurt him worse. Something Rob often does is come up with "top five" lists. Top five side one/track ones, top five songs about death, top five dream jobs, etc. When Laura walks out, he comes up with a new list: Top Five Most Memorable Breakups. The list does not include Laura. Maybe she'd make it into the top ten...

As Rob has a post-Laura meltdown, he starts to reorganize his record collection, not into a chronological or alphabetical order but autobiographical, which is an interesting idea. His mind turning back to the previous girlfriends on his top five list, he decides to get in contact with them and check up on their lives, an idea that he thinks Bruce Springsteen (who appears as himself in an imagined cameo) would approve of. Talk to them, see how they are, get closure.

The list covers breakups in Rob's life from puberty to the present and I think there are situations in there that pretty much everyone can relate to. There's the first kiss, the person who rejects all advances, and two that I can most personally relate to:

The person who you hook up with when they and/or you are rebounding from another relationship, have fun with, then one gets their heart broken when the other eventually rejects them and moves on. As Rob says about the situation he was in with this girl, "We were frightened of being left alone for the rest of our lives. Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being left alone for the rest of their lives at twenty-six. We were of that disposition." I am of that disposition as well.

And the big one for Rob, the girl he's most intimidated to see again, the type of girl who's run all over my life: the person who fascinates you, who you build up to be something amazing, you can't believe that you've been lucky enough to meet them and that they seem to like you. When this girl dumped him, Rob lost it. "Kind of lost it all, you know? Faith, dignity, about fifteen pounds." I've been there. Twice... Meeting up with her again, with some distance from his infatuation, Rob is able to see that she's not at all who he thought she was and she was never right for him. So it goes.

Eventually, Rob admits that Laura is definitely in the top five. He doesn't state it, but she seems to be number one. And she seems like great girlfriend material. She wants him to get more out of his life, to focus on and do things that make him happy and he finds fulfilling. When she finds his list of top five dream jobs during one visit to the apartment as she's moving stuff out, she makes him see that a job is missing from the list, the job that he already has: record store owner.

Rob's store is called Championship Vinyl, and here we get a look into the world of fandom. He has two employees, the milquetoast and awkward Dick and Barry, a loud and boisterous music snob, the type of fan who will argue the validity of opinions, take offense at what he perceives to be others' bad taste and insult them, and correct people on every little detail, even arguing over whether or not a title starts with "The". You can definitely see parallels with fans of other mediums.

When Rob learns that there's another man in Laura's life, I can relate to the way he reacts, incredulous to the idea that she'd move on from him to the guy that she has. Everything about the guy bothers him: his horrible clothes and hair, the music he listens to, the rings on his fingers... And of course, visions of Laura having epic sex sessions with the guy flood Rob's mind.

Laura's involvement with this guy, named Ian Raymond, leads to a couple of the movie's most popular and entertaining scenes: First, when Laura tells Rob that she hasn't had sex with Ian yet, he's not sure how to interpret this. He tries to get Barry's interpretation by asking him what he thinks it would mean if he told him, "I haven't seen Evil Dead II yet." When I saw High Fidelity in the theatre, I had seen Evil Dead II but I didn't own the DVD yet. It was this exchange that finally got me to go buy a copy.

Then, when Ian comes to the record store to try to talk things out with Rob, Rob imagines three ways to handle the situation differently than he actually does: tell Ian off in a cool way, threaten him, or violently attack him with the help of Dick and Barry. I wrote a scene inspired by this one into a script a couple years later.

There are a couple other subplots in the film, one with a female musician who Rob kind of gets involved with along the way, and another with some skateboarding, shoplifting youths who also turn out to be musicians. When Rob starts a record label to put out the kids' music, Laura again shows that she'd be a great girlfriend by organizing a CD release party for him. Rob is embarrassed and tries to shrug off his accomplishment, it doesn't mean much, the party isn't necessary, but Laura tells him that this is worth celebrating - the "professional appreciator" is now contributing something new and becoming part of the world that he loves so much.

Based on a novel by Nick Hornby (which I have to admit that I haven't read) and well-directed by Stephen Frears, High Fidelity has a great cast that includes John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Lili Taylor, Joelle Carter, and Sara Gilbert. Cusack also co-wrote the screenplay with D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, and Scott Rosenberg. As you might expect, given the characters' occupations and preoccupations, there's a lot of really good music in the film, with over fifty song cues and more songs referenced.

As I said throughout this article, I can relate to this movie in several ways. It's a very true-to-life story of love, heartbreak, and fandom, the kind of fandom that, almost no matter what's going on in your life, is still at the center of your day. In my life, the fandom is for movies, in Rob's it's for music. There's not much difference. The way the film deals with relationships is very real and truthful, in the end even showing that when someone is with the person who they'll probably stay with, it's not easy, it still takes a lot of work and consideration.

If you boil my reasons for appreciating this film down to one sentence, it would be this: High Fidelity contains truth. I'm a "professional appreciator", hopefully one that will follow Rob's lead and contribute something new to the world that I love. If someday I make a drama that deals with love and relationships, I will endeavor to make it as real and true as High Fidelity is.


  1. I couldn't agree more, I also thought that the film had a truth to it (as well as some of my favorite songs).
    After so many years, it's still one of my all-time favorites...

  2. I agree, I have always had a special place in my heart for this one. I also enjoyed the book!(Hornby is a personal favorite)