In defense of John Cusack

08/31/2010 03:39 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Tom Davis editor and Author, 'A Legacy of Madness'

Some movies I can watch over and over again, and I never get sick of them. In fact, I'll like them even more - even after seven or eight views.

The list of movies is short - Star Wars, The Shawshank Redemption. But, for me, the one flick that probably tops the list is High Fidelity.

It's not necessarily better than the movies I mentioned (though, over time, it may earn that kind of second-look classic status that elevated It's a Wonderful Life from box-office-bomb status to a masterpiece). It's just that some movies you can relate to better than others - especially when you've lived with a mental illness, but never really understood what it was or how it affects you.

No, this is not a movie about mental illness. In fact, John Cusack's character, Rob Gordon, makes an off-the-cuff remark about "woman-schizo stuff" issues that some might find offensive, but others might describe as an authentic piece of movie language used by a character who repeatedly fails in his relationships with the opposite sex but is in denial about what's tripping him up.

But the setting, the people and the lives they lead remind me much of the life I led before I was married in 1996 - a single, cynical, paycheck-to-paycheck life that was always more desperate than dreamy. And Cusack's character clearly has obsessive-compulsive issues (his obsessions with music and women, each encapsulated in top-five lists, for instance) that make me reflect back to the days when the neatest place in my house was the cabinet where my 300 or so cassette-tape albums - each expertly cleaned and dusted - were kept.

And with each new viewing, I pick up dialogue, foreshadowing events and plot conventions that somehow escaped me (and probably many people, because the dialogue is fast and complex) when I first saw it and endeared the movie to me even more (and, yes, perhaps this repeated viewing is also a function of my own obsessive compulsiveness).

And no actor connects with me more than John Cusack - and not so much for his good looks (ha ha). There's something appealing about his earthy, well-grounded pragmatism that embodies the personalities of educated, under-employed Generation X working stiffs who have lived anything but a "Leave-it-to-Beaver" lifestyle.

I owe a debt of gratitude to John Cusack, actually. His portrayal of an obsessive compulsive record-store owner in High Fidelity kind of validated the kind of existence I had in the early 1990s, when I was suffering through eating disorders and I'd bum a couple of bucks from a friend so I could buy a 79-cent taco at Taco Bell (and call it dinner).

He continues to put out movies - however flawed, like War Inc. - that employ a high-level complex form of dialogue and plot conventions that put them a notch above the average movie - or even the best movies. The characters are human who suffer from the everyday diagnosed and undiagnosed maladies that connect with a movie viewer more than a privileged political pundit who makes his or her living off a Fox News appearance would.

This was on display in High Fidelity, which will most likely be on some critics' top-movie lists for this decade and was an underrated love story when it was released in 2000. It introduced Jack Black - or, what he's all about - to the movie world and contained some of the most intelligent dialogue exchanges I've ever heard in any film.

Most importantly, it humanized the flawed - and, perhaps, obsessive compulsive - individual who had to come to grips with his own personal issues and shortcomings and learn to live with them and move on. Indeed, Cuscak's Rob Gordon offered one of the most authentic and humanistic apologies I've ever heard in any film (or even in real life) when he looked at his ex-girlfriend - the one he cheated on, reneged on a debt to and generally treated rather poorly - and uttered two simple words.

"I'm sorry."