The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘High Fidelity’

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “High Fidelity.”

The info:

The‌ ‌Movie:‌ ‌‌“High Fidelity”‌ ‌

Starring:‌ John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black

Director:‌ Stephen Frears

Plot‌ ‌Summary:‌ ‌‌(From‌ ‌IMDB)‌ Rob, a record store owner and compulsive list maker, recounts his top five breakups, including the one in progress.

Rotten‌ ‌Tomatoes‌ ‌Rating:‌ 91 ‌percent‌

Our take:

Froemming: I have a long, complicated relationship with this week’s pick. It came out the year I started working in record stores (a few months after I began my job in fact). I went to this movie on an awkward double-date with my buddy and two ladies. It was at the crappy, downtown theater in St. Cloud, we sat in the balcony I believe. I was 18 years old, addicted to music and brand (REDACTED) new to this dating thing.

And the movie started.

And I sat, stone face as my current life and probable future life was laid bare upon the large screen. I related to the main character and that really bothered me, as he was a giant asshole. His friends were assholes. The customers were assholes. 

And the realization that I, too, was a giant asshole really hit home for the first time. 

Quick, Top 5 regrettable JOE-DOWN picks:

  1. Jack and Jill.
  2. The Flintstones.
  3. Twilight.
  4. Soul Man.”
  5. This was originally reserved for “SLC Punk 2,” but this week’s pick took that out with a bullet. It made the list. I HOPE YOU ARE HAPPY, JOHN CUSACK! 

I picked “High Fidelity,” a movie that made working in record stores a living hell as everyone for a long time acted like Jack Black’s character when they came into the store and wanted to debate music with me. 

Brown, as I reorganize my record collection in a psychotic way, what are your first thoughts? 

Brown: I had never seen “High Fidelity” prior to this week. The two things I did know going in:

– This was the movie that helped America fall in love with Jack Black. I’m a fan of the guy but I have a few friends who think he’s (REDACTED) annoying.

– This is completely how I imagined Froemming’s time working at the Electric Fetus in St. Cloud before we met (and probably during the early time of our friendship). 

I would be the kind of customer the guys at Championship Vinyl and Froemming’s Electric Fetus would hate, because I wouldn’t buy anything. Vinyl records are something I never quite understood the allure of, and I always hated cluttering my living space with CDs. 

Also, as we’ll get into several times in this review, (REDACTED) John Cusack. 

While I try to justify my assholery with women like Rob Gordon, lead things off, Froemming.

Froemming: The movie starts out promising, as we hear the opening bars of 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me” play and see a sad-sack Rob Gordon (Cusack) going through a breakup in real time with his soon-to-be ex, Laura. And right away, we learn Rob will be bursting through the Fourth Wall like the Kool-Aid Man throughout this movie. Why? Because this is based off a book, and this was probably the easiest way to get all this exposition and internal monologue done. 

Why is Laura leaving Rob? Why have all his exes left him? Part of this movie is Rob’s journey into learning he is a real sack of shit. But he never realizes this, thus making this a very frustrating movie to watch. 

Brown: He drops this line early about what came first: Music or misery. Which is A. really pretentious to me, and B. an easy answer. Misery. I think man was bummed about his baby mama being mauled by a wolf pack before deciding to make a guitar or even a jug to blow into.

Also, I was really bummed out to see that Rob’s hair is the same as mine in this social distancing world. 

Froemming: I was going to say something about that…

Brown: The hair is less alarming than my mustache.

So one of the “quirks” that Rob is given is that he makes top five lists for everything. So in the span of minutes, he shows the talking to the audience about music mannerisms of Patrick Bateman with the OCD NEED to recite lists like he’s Two-Face NEEDING to flip a coin.

TL;DR: Rob is absolutely a serial killer.

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Froemming: Oh yeah. One of the reasons I picked this is that I just read the book for the first time and wanted to see if the movie version is just as disturbing as the film.

It is.

Rob owns Championship Vinyl, a name that should doom a record store into poverty during the CD boom of the 1990s. It does, as nobody is really ever in this store. 

And we meet his employees:

  • Dick, who is the quiet indie music guy that I despised while working in record stores.
  • Barry, who is the loud obnoxious dick that I despised while working in record stores.

This movie came out, and BOOM everyone had to act like Barry when they came in. I (REDACTED) hated it. (REDACTED) you movie for bringing this into my life. 

Brown: BTW, I am absolutely the Barry of the JOE-DOWN. 

Froemming: Great, that makes me either Dick or Rob. Or maybe the guy who wants to buy “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder.

Brown: Dick, he sucked. I didn’t relate to him at all, except for liking Stiff Little Fingers, which I believe my friend Lauren introduced to me via AOL Instant Messenger in high school. I’m guessing that came from this movie…

Now, Barry… there were times I related to him a lot. I would be the one on the JOE-DOWN that would try to lift Froemming’s spirits with Katrina & The Waves’ “Walkin’ On Sunshine.” Then there were the parts where Barry was an insufferable douche for criticizing things over pretty meaningless semantics. It was like working with JOE-DOWN villain Kyle Stevens all over again.

Froemming: Now you know how 2000-2010 was like for me. Also, Barry was right in this moment, because (REDACTED) Belle and Sebastian. 

Yes, these two just show up everyday and Rob just hired them. Pretty much how I landed my job, which is another reason this movie disturbed me. It is like when friends in bands say they can’t watch “This Is Spinal Tap” because it rings too true. 

Now Rob is reflecting on his Top 5 breakups. And this is when we start seeing a disturbing pattern of Rob.

His first breakup was in grade school. He dated Alison and she ended up with another boy a few days later, because that is how kids are when little. But Rob, like a (REDACTED) psycho, claims this is the start of his love life-misery. 

Brown: When Rob is describing a relationship that lasted SIX HOURS IN MIDDLE SCHOOL… well, I’ll let Patrick Bateman describe the look in Rob’s eyes.

Froemming: Then at No. 2 is the second most tragic tale of Rob’s cruelness in this movie. In high school he dated Penny, who wouldn’t let him maul her breasts and nether regions. He breaks up with her because he can’t have sex with her. We’ll get to how this led to her basically being raped later on. And yes, this is the SECOND most tragic tale of Rob’s being a monster. 

Brown: To use the clip you used in last week’s review of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” here is Rob’s honest-to-God reaction when Penny won’t let him fingerbang her.

Rob is flaming garbage.

Froemming: At No. 3 is Charlie, who Rob pines for to this day and, we find out later, is just as awful as he is. She is out of his league, in Rob’s neurotic mind and in all of ours when we think of someone like Catherine Zeta-Jones dating John Cusack. 

Brown: If you, dear reader, need stone-cold insight into the kind of guy Rob is, here’s an actual quote from the man when he finds out Charlie (Zeta-Jones) is cheating on him.

“Charlie, you (REDACTED) bitch, let’s work it out!” 

How did this guy ever get at least five women to date him? You know, aside from Chloroform and Stockholm Syndrome.

Now, with that said, when we find out later that Charlie is rather vapid and unlikable, I found great joy in that. The reason why is because at the start of the movie, she’s presented as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and I am sooooo not a fan of that type of female character. So for Rob to finally see through that for the ruse it was, I enjoyed it.

Froemming: Charlie is not really a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, she is like a porno crush with all the sex and whatnot. She isn’t quirky, just more a fantasy sort of thing. Like whatshername in the pool scene in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

Brown: Phoebe Cates has a name, Froemming.

Froemming: Cool story, brah.

Brown: Don’t worry though: After talking about Charlie, we’re brought back to the current day and Rob is smelling Laura’s underwear like a (REDACTED) creep. Like vinyl, I’ve never gotten the appeal of such a disgusting act.

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Froemming: Rob is at home reorganizing his record collection when Dick makes the mistake to stop by and see if he wants to get a drink. Dick gazes upon this madman’s labyrinth of madness, records all over the floor. Rob is organizing his records in autobiographical order, WHICH IS NOT A (REDACTED) THING ONE CAN DO. He says if he wants to find “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac (and honestly, who the hell would want to find that) he has to jump down a rabbit hole of specific memories. The problem is songs can be associated with a lot of different memories from different times. 

Brown: Raggin’ on Fleetwood Mac… you are still a (REDACTED) record store hipster.

Froemming: I have never hidden this part of myself. And the only good Fleetwood Mac is the early, Peter Green era.

Crap, I am a monster. 

Then his mother calls and he screams at her because she is upset and worried her loser son is going nowhere in life. In the book, Rob does this too and he is 37 I think? Maybe 35. Who at that age screams at their parents? 

Brown: So let’s go through the final two breakups in Rob’s manic top five. 

– There’s Sara, who, like Rob, just went through a messy breakup. So naturally, they bang. And then Sara moves on because Rob was CLEARLY a rebound. And naturally, Rob gets angry because he’s totally the guy you’re friends with Facebook for no reason but always posts memes about wanting women to make him sandwiches.

Then he mentions an ex named Jackie, but in reality, he picked Jackie out of spite so Laura couldn’t make the top five. So cool, Rob can’t even do top-five lists right. 

Then for no real reason that’s relevant to the plot, (REDACTED) Denise Huxtable is here in a band playing Peter Frampton covers, which Rob, Barry and Dick rag on Peter Frampton because they’re cynical assholes. 

Froemming, what was the point of Lisa Bonet’s character other than being a sexual conquest for Rob later? 

Froemming: In the movie? Nothing. She plays a larger role in the book. No idea why they included her if they were going to do this to the character.

Brown: I did theorize that the reason she’s not in the movie after that is because she tried to indoctrinate Rob with insane theories about vaccinations introducing alien microorganisms into childrens’ blood.

High Fidelity (2000)
High Fidelity (2000)

Froemming: I am not sure what is worse, those theories or doing covers of Frampton. 

Now, because this is a John Cusack movie, it demands a cameo from his sister Joan Cusack, who plays mutual friend Liz. At the moment, she is not picking sides, but she sure does — like we all do — when Laura spills the beans on Rob’s monstrous actions.

But before we get there, Liz drops a name. She says she doesn’t like this Ian guy.

Rob realizes there is another man in the picture (how could he have not seen this in the first place? Because Rob is the most self-centered character we have met in all the JOE-DOWN reviews). And he loses his shit.

Breakups are hard. Being cheated on is really, really tough. But how Rob goes about dealing with this strays from grief to maybe the cops should be called on him. 

Brown: Maybe?! Dude, at one point Rob gets a stack of quarters like he’s about to try and break the Donkey Kong world record and calls Ian’s apartment nonstop! He may as well be trying to disguise his voice while trying to Nurture Dependence in the DENNIS System.

Rob is obsessed with finding out if Laura has had sex with Ian since she started staying with him. It’s to the point where he’s dreaming about it, and the dreams are pretty damn similar to the orgy scene in “Zoolander.”

The next day at the record store, Liz barges in and screams at Rob for being an asshole. Already coming into work with the look in his eye of someone that’ll burn this business down for the insurance money, Rob asks aloud “How come I’m suddenly an asshole?”

Suddenly?! Are you (REDACTED) kidding me?! In my short time around you, Rob, you’ve proven to be quite the adequate asshole. 

Then when you divulge why Liz thinks this… holy (REDACTED), dude. You’re a (REDACTED) monster.

Froemming, tell us why Rob is an asshole.

Froemming: Before the big reasons, just prior to this we see Rob just let Barry screw a customer around who wants to buy a Captain Beefheart album, then sells it to their buddy instead. This movie is nothing but evidence of Rob being an asshole.

But the major ones are:

  • Rob cheated on Laura. While Laura was pregnant.
  • This cheatin’ led directly to Laura aborting the fetus.
  • After her abortion, Rob borrowed a lot of money from her, that he has not paid back.
  • And just prior to the breakup, Rob admitted he was looking at his options with other women.

Now, that is quite the list of Rob’s awfulness. He has tortured Laura in this relationship with his selfishness and cruelty. 

Is he sorry about any of it?

No.

We follow this with his justifications for how those events played out. It’s gross and disturbing and Rob should spend the rest of his life alone and miserable. 

Brown: Oh, I think Rob should spend the rest of his life getting beaten with a pillowcase full of doorknobs. It was at this point where, since Rob is riding the L train while justifying his assholery, that I wished he’d lay down on the train tracks so this movie would end.

Instead, we get a (REDACTED) bizarre cameo from Bruce Springsteen giving Rob a pep talk?! 

What (REDACTED) fever dream did you make me watch, Froemming?

Froemming: Yeah, Springsteen gives Rob a pep talk, and you really question the Boss’ views upon the world.

Rob decides he needs to hunt down his Top 5 exes to find out why this keeps happening to him.

No need, Rob. You’re a giant piece of shit. That is why they all left you (except poor Penny, who experienced hell from being rejected by Rob). 

First, he tries to get in touch with his first girlfriend, Alison. He gets her mom on the phone, says he was her first boyfriend and wants to know how to contact her. The woman says she married her first BF, which causes Rob’s mask of sanity to crack as he yells at this poor woman on the phone like Patrick Bateman yelling at the laundry women who can’t get all that blood out of his sheets.

Holy (REDACTED)! Rob needs a lot of meds and a lot of therapy. 

Brown: Rob then reaches out to Penny, whom we’ll remind you got dumped because Rob couldn’t have sex with her. Here’s a visual representation of how she got dumped. 

Penny tearfully tells Rob that she really liked him but didn’t want to have sex until college. Then during the heartbreak of getting dumped, she got raped. 

… 

Let that sink in, you son of a bitch, Rob.

Froemming: Rob’s takeaway from this horrific story? “Oh that’s right, I dumped her!” She didn’t leave him, so it doesn’t contribute to his worries.

You son-of-a-bitch, Rob.

Brown: Next, Rob finds Charlie’s number in the phone book and leaves a message. It did make me feel a bit better that I, a newspaper reporter, saw a phone book and FINALLY got to say “Man, finally something that died before print media.”

Froemming: Now, one night Laura shows up at the store and wants to talk with Rob and get more of her stuff out of his place. Here he badgers her with inappropriate questions about whether she has slept with Ian and whatnot. When she says she hasn’t, and exhaustedly says there is a small chance of getting back together because she needs him to shut up, Rob leaves and (REDACTED) Denise Huxtable! 

And the next time he talks with Laura, she says she has finally slept with Ian. And Rob loses his mind at her for sleeping with someone else. He just slept with Denise! 

Holy (REDACTED) Rob is a piece of shit. 

Also, Ian is played by Tim Robbins. He is a new-age hippie guy with a ponytail. And he is somehow not the most unlikeable character in this movie. That honor goes to Rob. 

Brown: Ian is basically modern-day Steven Seagal. While my jaw hit the floor finding out that Tim Robbins was in this, I grew to like him just for being the bane of Rob’s existence. 

But, I will say my favorite part of the movie is when Ian confronts Rob at the record store and we all of a sudden get the choose-your-own-adventure style of ending to this conflict. 

The idea of Jack Black and friends crushing Tim Robbins’ head in with an air conditioner is right out of my fantasy file.

In his vision quest to find out why he sucks, Rob makes his way to Charlie’s house. I legit thought he was walking into an orgy. Instead, it’s it was a typical adult party with wine and small talk. It’s here where Rob finds out that Charlie was always vapid and totally not seeing the irony of his main characteristic of making top five lists is equally vapid.

Rob is Buzzfeed: The Human Being. And this walking listicle has to deal with actual adult matters when Laura calls to tearfully ask Rob to come to her dad’s funeral.

Question: When the service for Laura’s dad is over, the casket descends into the basement of the church. Is that something actual churches do? Because that is (REDACTED) up if that’s a yes. 

Froemming: I have no idea. In the book he is cremated, so this wasn’t an issue. 

Well, instead of putting his crap aside for this funeral, Rob ends up yelling at Liz because in his paranoid mind, everyone is always dogging him. He’s a lot like Trump. 

And so he marches off in the rain, where I was hoping he would get hypothermia and leave this mortal coil, but no. Laura gets him for some hot car sex during her father’s funeral. 

This movie made me wish I had a scream pillow. Both in 2000 and two decades later.

Brown: We were both in need of a scream pillow, Froemming.

And apparently it took car sex from a woman who did it because “She just wanted to feel anything” but grief for Rob to get his act together?

Are you (REDACTED) kidding me?! 

They start living together again. Rob restrains himself from cheating (again!) after coming to the conclusion that he was never fully committed to Laura and kept chasing fantasies. Rob finds out the skater punks that rob his store actually have music talent and wants to give them a record deal for a label he DOES NOT have.

WHAT IS HAPPENING?!

Froemming: OK, a few things here.

  1. I know life is messy. I have not been the best SO and have done crappy things. But Rob is beyond the pale here. He is abusive. He is a monster. Even when given a second chance with Laura, he nearly squanders it for some girl he meets at the store. 
  2. The skater kids’ band is called Kinky Wizards and it is the second best band name in this movie. You are right, Rob does not have the means to put out a record of theirs. 
  3. The best band name is Barry’s, which is Sonic Death Monkey. 
  4. Rob gets a happy ending. He does not deserve one. He is not the protagonist of this story, he is the antagonist. This is like having the Joker triumph over Batman in “The Dark Knight.”

Yes, this story is troubling. I found it troubling when I first saw it. And age has only made my feelings of anger toward this more strong. Rob Gordon is a real piece of shit. 

Brown: At least this movie has a solid ending, with Barry rocking a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” If you need to show someone the allure of Jack Black, this is the scene. 

It’s too bad that that performance helps cement a toxic-ass relationship between Rob and Laura that alcohol and/or therapy will ever make OK. 

Froemming, let’s get to recommendations before Tim Robbins tries to have some conflict resolution talk with us.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Froemming: No. Like I said at the start, I have a complicated relationship to this movie in that a lot of what is in it, I have lived. I learned from my errors, Rob never does. Don’t bother with this. 

Brown: I’m conflicted, but I’ll say no. Like Froemming with “Scott Pilgrim” last week, I like about 90 percent of this movie. But Rob is such an irredeemable dumpster fire that it ruins the experience for me.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

“Fast and Furious” Month!

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