15 Years Later, How Should We Remember 'High Fidelity'?

03/26/2015 12:13 pm ET | Updated Mar 26, 2015
Touchstone Pictures

"High Fidelity" was released on March 28, 2000. Based on Nick Hornby's beloved book of the same name, it's often cited as one of the better romantic comedies of the 2000s. (The film owns a sparkling 91 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.) But time has a way of changing things, and despite how the film's portrayal of extended adolescence and the way pop culture fosters community hold up, there's now one part that feels dated: John Cusack's Rob Gordon.


"Yes, Rob admits that he's an asshole (though he winds up mansplaining it away a bit), and yes, much of his behavior is played for comedy or mild (at best) condemnation, but it’s still hard to not let his male entitlement rub you a little bit the wrong way in our current cultural climate," Alexander Huls wrote in a 2014 piece about "High Fidelity" for Film School Rejects.

Rob spends the majority of the film moping around because women don't want to have sex with him. He cites his No. 1 worst break-up as watching a girl in middle school kiss another guy after she had kissed him. At age 35, he sees all other failed relationships as casually tied to that pubescent experience.

In recounting his top-five worst heartbreaks, Rob acts like he has been denied some inherent right to the bodies of all the women he has dated (and can apparently only relieve the resulting self-loathing by searching for the reasons they wouldn't sleep with him). When he reconnects with one of his exes (Joelle Carter) and asks why she would have sex with someone else but not him, she says she was so exhausted after Rob broke up with her that she said "okay" to her new partner, but it was "basically rape." Rob responds by leaving the restaurant and doing a victory dance.

I mentioned some of the darker elements of the film to director Stephen Frears -- that rape comment and Rob cheating on his girlfriend Laura while she is pregnant, which convinces her to get an abortion -- and he interrupted my examples to ask my age.

"Twenty-four," I told him.

"Well, you're beginning to learn that life is more complicated than it is in movies, aren't you?" he said. "Being grown up is a tricky thing to do."

I reframed the question: "Did you include any of those plot points as a means of satirizing male entitlement?"

"We didn't have words like 'male entitlement' back then!" he said. "Don't you know men like that? That's what life is like. There are a lot of awful men like that."

"[Rob] seems to be rather typical," Frears added. "When I was that age, I knew a lot of men who were like that. I was sort of like that. That’s the mannish world that a lot of us came out of, but we learned to behave better."


To Frears, in fact, the idea of men growing up is the clearest message of the film. "It's on the side of the women," he explained. "And then the man has to learn to treat the women properly."

The other possible reading of the film, he suggests, is that "love is more important than marriage." He points to one of the final scenes, when Laura says no to Rob's spontaneous (and mostly rude) proposal, in which he says he's tired of thinking about marriage and wants to get it out of the way. She tosses up a sarcastic acceptance and then turns him down.

There's not much further emphasis on marriage besides that one scene. Though, perhaps what Frears means is that the rituals of getting together, labeling relationships and insisting each one last forever are nonsense. "People find more complicated ways of living with each other," he said. "It's the feelings that matter."

As Frears sees it, through the process of maturing, Rob is able to learn to fit into that complicated reality with Laura.

"In the end, he makes her a tape. What do you call it? A CD," he said. "So, he’s begun to learn how to treat her better. That’s the lesson that all the men in my generation have to learn."

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