After seeing the film, Hornby expressed his happiness with Cusack's performance, saying that "at times, it appears to be a film in which John Cusack reads my book".
Rob Gordon (John Cusack) is a self-confessed music loving everyman with a poor understanding of women. After getting dumped by his latest girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle), he decides to look up some of his old partners in an attempt to figure out where he keeps going wrong in his relationships.
He spends his days at his record store, Championship Vinyl, where he holds court over the customers that drift through. Helping Rob in his task of musical elitism are Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black), the "musical moron twins," as he refers to them. Armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things musical, they compile "top five" lists for every conceivable occasion, openly mock the tastes of their customers, and, every so often, sell a few records.
Rob and the staff have a strong dislike for two shoplifting skateboarder teenagers, Vince (Chris Rehmann) and Justin (Ben Carr). One day, he listens to a recording that they made and offers them a record deal, starting his own label called Top 5 Records. During his off hours, he pines for Laura and does his best to win her back.
Rob soon hears that Laura's father, who liked Rob, has died, and attends his funeral with Laura. Shortly after the reception, Rob realizes he never committed to Laura and always had one foot out the door. This made him realize he neglected his own future in the process. Afterward, he and Laura move back in together again. Rob meets a music columnist whom he soon develops a crush on, but while making a mixtape for her, wonders if he'll always just be jumping rock to rock. Laura meets with Rob in a bar where he explains how other girls are just fantasies, and while Laura is a reality, he never gets tired of her. He then proposes marriage to her, and she thanks him for asking. Later, she organizes an evening where he has the opportunity to revisit a love of his youth: dee-jaying. It is also a celebration of the recently released single by the two delinquents, where Barry's band plays "Let's Get It On". Surprised that Barry's band is not a disaster, Rob holds Laura, and they both sway to the music. Rob makes a mixtape for Laura, feeling like he's finally learned how to make her happy.
Nick Hornby's book was optioned by Disney's Touchstone Pictures in 1995 where it went into development for three years. Disney executive Joe Roth had a conversation with recording executive Kathy Nelson who recommended John Cusack and his writing and producing partners D. V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink adapt the book. She had worked previously with them on Grosse Pointe Blank and felt that they had the right sensibilities for the material. According to Cusack, DeVincentis is the closest to the record-obsessive characters in the film, owning 1,000 vinyl records and thousands of CDs and tapes. They wrote a treatment that was immediately greenlit by Roth.
The writers decided to change the book's setting from London to Chicago because they were more familiar with the city and it also had a "great alternative music scene", according to Pink. Cusack said, "When I read the book I knew where everything was in Chicago. I knew where the American Rob went to school and dropped out, where he used to spin records. I knew two or three different record shops when I was growing up that had a Rob, a Dick and a Barry in them". Charlotte Tudor, of the film's distributor, Buena Vista, said: "Chicago has the same feel as north London, there is a vibrant music scene, a lot of the action is set in smoky bars and, of course, there is the climate. But everyone, including Nick, felt that geography was not the central issue. It has a universal appeal". Scenes were filmed in the neighborhood of Wicker Park, and on the campus of Lane Tech High School.
Cusack found that the greatest challenge adapting the novel was pulling off Rob Gordon's frequent breaking of the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience. The screenwriters did this to convey Rob's inner confessional thoughts and were influenced by a similar technique in the Michael Caine film, Alfie. Cusack rejected this approach because he thought that "there'd just be too much of me". Once director Stephen Frears signed on to direct, he suggested using this technique and everyone agreed to use it.
Cusack and the writers floated the idea that Rob could have a conversation with Bruce Springsteen in his head, inspired by a reference in Hornby's book where the narrator wishes he could handle his past girlfriends as well as Springsteen does in his song, "Bobby Jean" on Born in the U.S.A. They never believed they would actually get the musician to appear in the film, but thought putting him in the script would get the studio excited about it. Cusack knew Springsteen socially and called the musician up and pitched the idea. Springsteen asked for a copy of the script and afterwards agreed to do it.
Frears was at the Berlin International Film Festival and saw Mifune's Last Song, starring Iben Hjejle, and realized that he had found the actress for the role. Frears read Hornby's book and enjoyed it but did not connect with the material because it was not about his generation. He accepted the job because he wanted to work with Cusack again (they had worked together previously on The Grifters) and liked the idea of changing the setting from London to Chicago. The director was also responsible for insisting on keeping Jack Black on as Barry. Frears has said that many people from the studio would come to watch his rushes.
One of the challenges that the screenwriters faced was figuring out which songs would go where in the film because Rob, Dick, and Barry "are such musical snobs," according to Cusack. He and his screenwriting partners listened to 2,000 songs and picked 70 song cues.Track listing
More music in the film
- "You're Gonna Miss Me" – 13th Floor Elevators
- "Ev'rybody's Gonna Be Happy" – The Kinks
- "I'm Wrong About Everything" – John Wesley Harding
- "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" – The Velvet Underground
- "Always See Your Face" – Love
- "Most of the Time" – Bob Dylan
- "Fallen for You" – Sheila Nicholls
- "Dry the Rain" – The Beta Band
- "Shipbuilding" – Elvis Costello & The Attractions
- "Cold Blooded Old Times" – Smog
- "Let's Get It On" – Barry Jive & The Uptown Five (Jack Black)
- "Lo Boob Oscillator" – Stereolab
- "The Inside Game" – Royal Trux
- "Who Loves the Sun" – The Velvet Underground
- "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)" – Stevie Wonder
High Fidelity premiered at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. The post-party was held at the Sunset Room where Tenacious D performed. The film was given a wide release on March 31, 2000, grossing $6.4 million on its opening weekend. It grossed $47.1 million of which $27.3 million was from the US.
High Fidelity received positive reviews from critics and has a "Certified Fresh" score of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 164 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7 out of 10. The critical consensus states: "The deft hand of director Stephen Frears and strong performances by the ensemble cast combine to tell an entertaining story with a rock-solid soundtrack." The film also has a score of 79 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 35 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and wrote, "Watching High Fidelity, I had the feeling I could walk out of the theater and meet the same people on the street — and want to, which is an even higher compliment." In his review for the Washington Post, Desson Howe praised Jack Black as "a bundle of verbally ferocious energy. Frankly, whenever he's in the scene, he shoplifts this movie from Cusack." In his review for The New York Times, Stephen Holden praised Cusack's performance, writing that he was "a master at projecting easygoing camaraderie, he navigates the transitions with such an astonishing naturalness and fluency that you're almost unaware of them." USA Today did not give the film a positive review: "Let's be kind and just say High Fidelity doesn't quite belong beside Grosse Pointe Blank and The Sure Thing in Cusack's greatest hits collection. It's not that he isn't good. More like miscast." In his review for Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman gave the film a "B-" rating and wrote, "In High Fidelity, Rob's music fixation is a signpost of his arrested adolescence; he needs to get past records to find true love. If the movie had had a richer romantic spirit, he might have embraced both in one swooning gesture."
Peter Travers, in his review for Rolling Stone, wrote, "It hits all the laugh bases, from grins to guffaws. Cusack and his Chicago friends — D.V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink — have rewritten Scott Rosenberg's script to catch Hornby's spirit without losing the sick comic twists they gave 1997's Grosse Pointe Blank." In his review for The Observer, Philip French wrote, "High Fidelity is an extraordinarily funny film, full of verbal and visual wit. And it is assembled with immense skill." Stephanie Zacharek, in her review for Salon.com, praised Iben Hjejle's performance: "Hjejle's Laura is supremely likable: She's so matter-of-fact and grounded that it's perfectly clear why she'd become exasperated with a guy like Rob, who perpetually refuses to grow up, but you can also see how her patience and calm are exactly the things he needs."
Empire magazine readers voted High Fidelity the 446th greatest film in their "500 Greatest Movies of All Time" poll. It is also ranked #14 on Rotten Tomatoes' 25 Best Romantic Comedies. In its June 2010 issue, Chicago magazine rated it #1 in a list of the top 40 movies ever filmed in Chicago. Russian-American alternative singer-songwriter Regina Spektor was watching this movie when she wrote her song "Fidelity", which is her most popular song to date and marked her first entry into the Billboard 100. Also in 2006 a musical based upon the movie premiered on Broadway and ran for 13 performances.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
"Let's Get It On" – Nominated