This weekend, the award-winning Sundance hit "Like Crazy" comes to theaters, telling the story of two young lovers, Jacob and Anna, trying to keep their relationship alive despite living on different continents. It's a flawed but deeply affecting movie, one of the few of late that really seems to understand the ugly, difficult side of romance. "Like Crazy" got me thinking of another romantic film that gives us difficult characters grappling with their feelings for one another, sometimes in irrational, immature ways. I'm talking about 2000's "High Fidelity."
Based on Nick Hornby's novel, "High Fidelity" introduced us to the chaotic life of Rob Gordon (John Cusack), a music nut who works in an independent record store -- oh man, remember those? -- and is not handling his breakup with longtime girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) well at all. So in between obsessively cataloging and rhapsodizing about his music collection, he decides to look back on his past relationships in the hopes of figuring out what went wrong with Laura.
There are some surface differences between "High Fidelity" and "Like Crazy." Rob is in his 30s, while the couple in "Like Crazy" are just barely in their 20s. The couple in "Like Crazy" go through a lot more together in the course of their movie than do Rob and Laura, who are more often than not separated. But both films are piercingly honest about how love, if you let it, can consume every single second of your life. That proves to be a whole lot harder when you're not enough of a grownup to handle an adult relationship, but that doesn't stop any of these poor people from flailing around as if they are.
For Cusack, "High Fidelity" represented a platform to deliver one of his best performances. Women loved him as the sensitive romantic in "Say Anything" and the quirky hitman in "Grosse Pointe Blank," and critics enjoyed his range in "Bullets Over Broadway," "The Grifters" and "Being John Malkovich." But with "High Fidelity," he played a seemingly lovable underdog who in fact is quite immature and in some ways unlikable, clinging to his records as an escape from the realities of real life. Although it's really a romantic comedy, there's a seriousness and pathos to the film that most love stories don't possess. (Cusack also co-wrote the screenplay, suggesting just how important the project was to him.) And while some complained that Rob just needed to turn off the music and get a life, "High Fidelity" showed how hard and scary it can be to embrace adulthood, even if it's high time you finally did.
It's now been 11 years since "High Fidelity" came out, and most people probably remember it as the movie that helped launch Jack Black's career. (He plays Rob's snotty, loud-mouthed co-worker.) And the movie wasn't a big hit, despite its glowing reviews. But like "Like Crazy," "High Fidelity" finds a poignant truth about how life-or-death love can feel when we're in the throes of it. For Rob, though, the problem isn't just about loving Laura -- it's about whether he loves her more than his vinyl.