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'High' caliber script and cast capture quirkiness of love life

Few films have the ability to make a seamless transition from book to big screen. "High Fidelity," however, does just that, smoothly morphing from British author Nick Hornby's cult novel into Stephen Frears' film.

Chronicling the romantic misadventures of its narrator and central character, Rob Gordon (John Cusack), "Fidelity" presents real problems with wit and portrays a keen understanding of human relationships. One of the reasons the film is so easy to relate to is its treatment of music as the ultimate expression of human emotion and type of common bond - who doesn't connect certain childhood memories or summer jobs to pop music?

The parallel between Rob's two worlds - his love life and his record store - is a brilliant one, as he finds himself unable to move on in either one. In fact, he views anything that isn't vinyl as sacrilege.

Quick Cut
Movie: "High Fidelity"
Directed by: Stephen Frears
Starring:
John Cusack
Iben Hjejle
Grade: A-

Interspersed with pop culture trivia, which occurs mostly in the form of top five lists composed by Rob and fellow music snobs and record store employees Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black), the film utilizes music as an autobiographical background to Rob's life. As Rob's current on-and-off romantic interest, Laura (Iben Hjejle), even says, "Marvin Gaye brought us together."

Laura's exit from the role of Rob's live-in girlfriend triggers a recounting of Rob's romantic history, starting with number one on the list - seventh-grader Alison. In going back as far as his short-lived pre-"Rockford Files" playground girlfriend, Rob contemplates his past relationships up to the present.

The journey from number one to number five on the breakup list is quite a story, illustrating coming-of-age realizations, misunderstandings and heartache. With the exception of Penny (model Joelle Carter), ruthlessly discarded for her unwillingness to go very far on the metaphorical baseball diamond progression of high school boy fantasy, Rob sees a trend of inevitable rejection from the opposite sex.

Although his list includes women who should be out of his league, like Charlie, an exotic college beauty who speaks French and studies art (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Rob continues to feel terminally jilted.

In the middle of a mid-love-life crisis, he determines to answer the question "What does it all mean?" in order to win his most recent lover back from Ian (Tim Robbins), a cell-phone toting pseudo-hippie.

Rob's lack of motivation, unrealistic career goals and obvious culpability for much of his romantic misfortune fail him as a doer in life, but he proves to be a sympathetic and occasionally charming observer. Delivering almost Seinfeld-esque side commentaries on anything from women's underwear to levels of dating status, Rob describes the small stuff with clarity and humor.

Dick and Barry also provide sharp-witted truisms, complementing their ringleader with both sarcasm and subtlety. Barry, the film's funniest character, never fails to amuse with his relentless music snobbery, turning the rare customer away from the already barren Championship Vinyl and doing his own mean rendition of Gaye's "Let's Get it On."

Great casting adds to the already clever script with an unusual mixture of character types and acting styles. Supporting roles provide such pleasures as musician Marie de Salle (Lisa Bonet), Laura's friend, Liz (Joan Cusack) and record executive Caroline (Natasha Gregson Wagner). Additionally, there are appearances by Sara Gilbert and a cameo by Bruce Springsteen. No wonder Rob can't escape his strangely amusing existence.

Any good compilation tape, Rob advises, must be made with careful consideration, starting with a bang, going up a notch and then toning down only to bring listeners back up again. "Fidelity" takes its own advice, offering a unique and interesting sensory experience in the process.

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