If Sigmund Freud had been a DJ, not a shrink, he'd surely have discovered the link between compilation tapes and hot lovin' techniques. Experts of the musical mix construct a slow, seductive rise to a bone-shaking climax; the inexperienced crash in with an attention-grabbing opener followed by fast and furious bursts of energy; the saddos have one hand hovering over the play button and the other down their Y-fronts. But he who considers himself the Casanova Of Compilation knows that the secret lies in perfect pacing.
Such a man is record shop boss Rob Gordon, whose life is an ongoing series of compilation lists, especially his Top Five Break-Ups. When we first see Rob, he's cut off from reality: his headphones function as an umbilical cord to an isolated world of music that drowns out the sound of his girlfriend slamming the door. To avoid a date, Rob's the kind of Professional Appreciator who'll claim he's rearranging discs, autobiographically rather than alphabetically.
As the romantic lead, John Cusack is faced with the task of ensuring the self-obsessed Rob isn't crowned King Geek - - hence the pairing of Todd Louiso and Jack Black as Rob's trivia-stuffed shop assistants. In lesser hands, these characters could have been stuck in a stereotypical groove - the shy, sensitive one (Louiso) and the fat, loud-mouthed one (Black) - and although Black veers a little too closely to being a carbon copy of John Belushi, they work together as a well-balanced comic foil to Rob's lovelorn air of depression.
Cusack plays Rob as a smart and increasingly self-aware adolescent, whose all-consuming love for vinyl puts the sparkle in his eye but blinds him to the needs of others. He adds a touch of irony to his natural charm, drawing the audience into the story (and onto Rob's side) when the lines are delivered in straight-to-camera monologues. It's a slightly theatrical device, but it successfully gives the film the sense of a male confessional.
If you're worried about the fact that Stephen Frears's adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel shifts the action from London to Chicago, then cease fretting because, regardless of location, Cusack and his Grosse Pointe Blank collaborators, DV DeVincentis and Steve Pink, have successfully turned the book into a funny and insightful script. In fact, given the current woeful state of the British film industry, we should rejoice that High Fidelity has gone Stateside and swapped Hornby's soul-dominated collection for a sharper post-punk and indie soundtrack. Only a dream team like this could take a film about a bunch of geek boys and make it so cool.
Although Hornby's book was pitched almost exclusively at blokes, the movie has a wider appeal because it shifts the romantic relationships to the foreground. You'll laugh, you'll cringe in recognition, you'll go home and start recording a new tape.