The International Writers Magazine
:DVD Review

High Fidelity (2000) Director Stephen Frears
Starring John Cusack
Novel: Nick Hornby - ISBN: 0140295569 (1995)
Screenplay by: D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack, Scott Rosenburg.
Holly Bates

The big question when transporting Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel ‘High Fidelity’ from London to Chicago was: is it going to work in a totally different culture?

It was one which I certainly asked myself after completing the book. A faithful Hornby fan, I wasn’t too sure that moving it from the UK to America would work; the book was just so British. From our main character Rob’s childhood ‘snogging’ of his first girlfriend Alison Ashworth in the park on his typically suburban estate; to moaning about twenty quid minicab fares from Putney to Crouch End, the novel had its roots firmly in British soil. He reads the Guardian, watches Fawlty Towers and tapes the Brookside Omnibuses. It is very hard to imagine him anywhere else but in his flagging record shop in Holloway, let alone in Chicago.

Hornby’s second novel, ‘High Fidelity’ was published in 1995 and was received to much critical acclaim. Followed by more bestsellers, it was only a matter of time before Hornby’s books were snapped up to be made into films. ‘Fever Pitch’ came first, but that was set in England, and it really had to be as the institution which is football, or rather Soccer really isn’t the same over in the US as it is here. So when ‘High Fidelity’ was to become a film, but set in the US, I was eager to see what the transition would be like.

The novel is close to a classic and was so almost immediately; a wonderfully sweet and funny tale of thirty-five year old Rob, who after being dumped once again, goes through his top 5 break-ups of all time analysing his life and trying to figure out what it is he actually wants. As he weaves his way through the heartache and desperation of trying to win back his most current girlfriend; we hear of his search for all these old girlfriends to try and figure out why he always gets rejected. As a film, it could be described as the masculine equivalent of a chick-flick really, instead of a woman soul-searching and trying to figure out her life it is a man; but it appeals to both sexes and I’d say this is superior to many a chick-flick and this down to the excellent writing from Hornby. Hornby tells it as it is, his writing is very true and hits right on the mark and this is where the strength lies. He is also very funny and so instead of slipping into sentimentality or clichés, we are laughing aloud to ourselves whilst reading. We are endeared to Rob, and Hornby cleverly makes sure we are constantly on his side, fighting his corner no matter what he does.

Screenplay writer D.V. Devincentis remained very faithful to the original dialogue and in maintaining the strength of the central character makes the adapted film successful too. John Cusack is perfect for the role of Rob; he plays him as the obsessive and confused thirty something Hornby portrays in the novel. Involved closely in the adaptation of the book to the film, Cusack even helped to write the screenplay. The director’s (Stephen Frears) choice to have him talking directly to us, as the narration in the book appears, is a masterstroke because it engages the viewer with Rob and we can laugh along to his funny, insecure monologues and share his confusion. The other two main male characters also make the film; Jack Black as the crazy and wildly exuberant Barry lights up every scene he is in, providing laughs every time and his total opposite in the shy and retiring Dick, played faultlessly by Todd Louiso. This trio of male characters really help the film come to life and make sure we actually care about the lives of the people in it.

But essentially, it is the main features of the novel which make the transition from England to America smooth and effortless. Surprisingly, the location change, as I discovered, made very little difference to the actual film. The many cultural references from the book were simply changed to American cultural references; instead of snogging on the swings in the suburban park, they kissed on the bleachers at the baseball field. The location change even provides chances for more jokes, for example a just-dumped Rob comments ominously to us outside a movie theatre that this was where John Dillinger (a 1930s gangster) was killed and that his girlfriend tipped the police off. Sure some of the music has to change to ensure the Americans know what it is, but it would have had to change slightly anyway to update the 1995 book to 2000 film.

The big question posed at the beginning here actually fades into the distance because I realised that the transition from London to Chicago really wasn’t a problem at all. It’s the heart of the novel which makes it able to jump across the Atlantic and work just as well in America as England. The themes in this novel are universal; anyone can understand them and even apply them to their own lives. It’s the central character and ideas, not the location, which means ‘High Fidelity’ would work wherever it was set. The wonder of this film is that it’s funny and sweet, heart-warming and above all else true; audiences can engage with the textual Rob and John Cusack’s brilliant portrayal of him. We really care what happens to our hapless Rob and it’s this which means both book and film of ‘High Fidelity’ are successes, in any country.
© Holly Bates Nov 16th 2005

Holly is a second year Creative Writing major at the University of Portsmouth

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