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By Merle Bertrand | March 24, 2000

As crushing as it is when Laura (Iben Hjejle) walks out on Rob Gordon (John Cusack), it doesn’t even crack his Top 5 list of all time worst break-ups… at least not at first. This we know because Rob spends a good deal of time in Stephen Frears’ cynical yet gut-busting romantic comedy telling us so. Rob, who owns an eclectic (i.e., failing) vinyl record store in Chicago, recounts each of those notorious Top Five conflagrations while we watch the meltdowns unfold in all their gory detail. Meanwhile, his angst over this latest failed relationship deepens, helped along by a nagging mother and the general dissatisfaction that comes from owning such a dead-end business, until he works his way through the list of attractive perpetrators, contacting them and exorcising the demons of those past failures one by one. This is a fine strategy…until he inadvertently learns that Laura may be involved with their upstairs neighbor Ian; a creepy New Age freak hysterically portrayed by Tim Robbins. Then and only then does Laura crack that Top Five list which, in the perverted way that love works, only makes Rob want her back all the more. This movie is a scream. Cusack, who finally seems to be outgrowing his Dick Clark anti-aging gene just in time to enter what can only be described as an early Dustin Hoffman stage, delivers one of his funniest and most seasoned performances ever; a dry, deadpan, and devastatingly wicked turn as the unscrupulous, able to rationalize anything, yet still oddly lovable schlep Rob. A who’s who of “A-List” stars — Robbins, Sara Gilbert, Lili Taylor, Lisa Bonet, Joan Cusack, even The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, for heaven’s sakes! — appear in supporting roles or cameos, somehow pulling off the nearly impossible feat of highlighting this movie’s rollicking good time while not being crippling distractions. Based on a novel by Nick Hornby, this searingly comical film breathes fresh life into the romantic comedy genre even if, at just barely under two hours long, it runs the risk of wearing out its welcome. A lesser film would certainly have done just that. Fortunately, “High Fidelity” is a finely tuned piece of work that’s consistently far too damned funny to do any such thing.

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