Tuesday, April 06, 2010

"Book It!" With Alipete - High Fidelity

Given a lack of other thrilling material to work with (Want to hear about driving through Missouri with my lady? In the Chillicothe McDonalds, there was a kid with a deer hunting hat that said "Buck Star" and a shirt with "Lil Bro" printed above the number 10. The end.), I'm posting an email conversation with Alipete regarding the Nick Hornby novel / John Cusack film "High Fidelity".

(The title of the book/film, by the way, comes from an Elvis Costello song. At least, there is an Elvis Costello song called "High Fidelity", and I'd be really surprised if the title does not originate from that great song. You can listen to it:

End parentheses.)

I just read "The Corrections," and I will NOT recommend that. Now I am reading "High Fidelity," which is ruined because I've seen the movie a BILLION times. I also just read "What Is the What." Have you read that? I thought it was phenomenal, and now I am sponsoring a Sudanese student. That is not an exaggeration.

Well, lookie lookie. Somebody’s been reading books from dn’s collection. What is the What and High Fidelity. I have a lot to say about High Fidelity, if you want (but not much to add to What is the What. That book doesn’t really provoke much discussion except for “Yikes” and “Whoa”). I’d also seen the movie several times first, but cherished the book nonetheless. I read it in the midst of my blue period, which followed my worst breakup, and coincided with a lonely trip to Ann Arbor. Good stuff. Anyway, let’s book club it up when you’re done.

I guess I’ll go elsewhere for a book recommendation. Great, now Floyd is just going to tell me to read something about Russia.

50 pages left. I look forward to this discussion.

Also, I'm not really a "Men Are From Mars"-type person, but how unfortunate is it that guys get cool break-up, what-does-it-all-mean stories like "High Fidelity," and girls have rubbish like "Eat, Pray, Love"? The quality gap there is as big as the difference between, well, fiction and non-fiction, you could say.

Good point. Maybe it’s the pursuer vs. the pursued? They’re bound to reflect on things differently? What about Stella getting her groove back? Was that different than “Eat, Pray, Love”?

I don't know anything about Stella or her groove. And I don't know too much yet about "Eat, Pray, Love." I'm embarrassed to say I know anything about it all. It was purchased in a moment of weakness, OK? Anyhow, it is fundamentally very different from "High Fidelity," and I appreciate Rob Fleming's musings much more than Elizabeth Gilbert's.

Can you remind me if there is much in High Fidelity that is not in the film? I thought there was, but now I worry I’m confusing it with About a Boy, which was super different than the movie.

There's not a ton different in "High Fidelity." In the book, his relationship with Marie LaSalle is a little more involved, and his parents are bigger characters. He celebrates a birthday. There are actually five girls on his Top 5 Break-Up list, whereas in the movie, he kicks off the last one for Laura. And he doesn't start a record label; he goes back to DJing in the end... unless there's more to come in the last 10 pages.

For starters, I allege that it is a male-oriented fairy tale of a perfect breakup. Rob:
Gets to wallow in pity and surround himself with music

Gets proof that his exes are not that great, and he’s not missing out on them

Gets to bed a musician

Does not have to feel guilty about bedding the musician, because Laura is also with someone

Gets Laura back

Becomes a somewhat well-adjusted, comfortable adult

I'll agree. He doesn't have to feel guilty about anything: the post-breakup musician, the affair, the abortion, the debt. It's all forgotten, and he doesn't have to account for any of it.

And maybe you read it differently than I did, but it seems to be a pretty bleak picture of love. I feel like Rob thinks "Well, this relationship will never be new or even exciting again, but it's something. I'm too lazy/unlikely to find anything better, so this'll do." And Laura is the same. She knows the relationship is no good, but she doesn't want to look for someone who'd be a better match. Everyone is settling. Am I wrong?

I don’t think it’s bleak. I can only go on the film version, since I only read the book once, but I didn’t see it as settling. Yes, they are tired of looking for other, “better” people, but they’ve also realized that a more suitable match probably does not exist.

I don’t know the female perspective on this, but as a male, I can say without hesitation that the looking is exhausting. And I don’t mean dating – I mean looking. Looking to see how attractive (or not) a jogger on the sidewalk is as you drive by, looking at the receptionists in the ophthalmologist’s office, looking around on the bus or in the airport terminal. (It was only in the past few years when I trained myself to stop looking in some of those situations - really, what would you do if the jogger was attractive? Stop the car?) Rob is tired of looking. Yes, Laura isn’t new or exciting anymore, but every relationship loses that initial thrill. He’s realized that a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a myth, and he knows if he just focuses on Laura they will be happy.

Yeah, I suppose. Something about it still strikes me as sad, though.

I agree that the looking can be exhausting. And I understand that the thrill of a new person can fade and that it's sad to run out of "firsts." I appreciate those sentiments. But I guess, in a perfect world, Rob -- being with Laura -- shouldn't be tired of looking; he shouldn't want to look anymore.

Maybe that's too idealistic. I mean, this is obviously more a story about maturing and realizing what "real-life" love/commitment is than it is a story about love. And the fact that I think it's kind of bleak probably points to some disappointments in my future. But, I get it. I do. The more I write and think about this, the more I get it. It's just a bummer.

I always liked the "Do I listen to pop music because I'm miserable, or am I miserable because I listen to pop music?" [See the 0:44 mark in the clip below.] debate. What a masochistic thing to do to yourself. Post-breakup, I much prefer episodes of "30 Rock" to sentimental pop records. But I guess Rob is a much cooler person than I.

Take it from someone who has made CD mixes titled “Breakup: Pessimistic” and “Breakup: Optimistic” – you do NOT want to indulge more than one or two listens to the pessimistic playlist. I’m convinced that error extended my blue period for several months.

Obviously he shouldn’t WANT to look anymore, but he’s a man, man! It’s in his biology; or, if you want to argue the sow-your-oats urges, you have to concede that he’s conditioned himself to seek and impress and conquer women for the last 10 or 15 years (I don’t remember Rob’s age). The revelation is that the cute tattooed girls that wander into his record shoppe aren’t better options, they’re just other options.

This book/story speaks to you more than it does to me. That's what I've learned here. Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy it. It's one of my favorite movies of all time. (Maybe I just enjoy this existential crisis more when I'm watching John Cusack endure it.)

And though I question Rob's methods, it's still a better way to deal with a breakup than eating Ben & Jerry's and watching "Love, Actually."


Bobby said...

I haven't read the book (yet), and it's been several months since I watched the movie last, but it always seemed to me that it was about Rob overcoming "the grass is always greener" tendency, and finally realizing, "Hey, I'm an a-hole who idealizes my past and potential girlfriends, but the one I've got may actually be the ideal one for me."

I don't think it's a bleak picture of love. I think it's a recognition that true love encompasses more than the thrill of the chase or the contents of a potential mate's record collection.

Anonymous said...

thanks guys -- really enjoyed the dialogue. i myself have gone back and forth on whether rob & laura are doing the right thing and i wonder how their relationship pans out after the credits roll. i think part of the interpretation may be age/experience-specific. i think in my early viewings/reading i was surprised that they were content to settle on a situation that was compromising and less than ideal. over time i have come to appreciate the flip side in that you can piss your life away 'trying to find a woman who's never never been born,' or just chasing for the thrill of the chase. however, i still think rob hasn't heard the last about all the transgressions that led joan's character to call him an asshole...

i never considered the elvis costello song inspiring the title. i just figured it worked on both levels of stereo sound / music appreciation and fidelity within the confines of a relationship.

last thing, i know jack black gets most of the attention, but i just wanted to throw some props the way of lisa bonet and tim robbins for their stellar underappreciated performances...


Floyd said...

I don't have much to say about this conversation. But I do have a great book recommendation. It's called The Revolutionist by Robert Littell, and it traces the progression of an idealistic Russian Jew in New York in the 1920's through his emigration back to Mother Russia, his participation in the Bolshevik Revolution and the eventual takeover by Stalin. It reveals the horrors of living in communist Russia in brutal but fascinating detail, and gives a real sense of what it was like to exist in a world where simple words or suspicion was enough to get you killed. There's heartbreak aplenty as well. Highly recommended.

dn said...

Jeff - I can't find 100% confirmation about the title, but the Elvis Costello Wiki says, "High Fidelity - novel by Nick Hornby 1995 has a number of Elvis Costello references, including three of the characters debating over their top 5 Elvis Costello songs of all time.

Raine - I'm currently slogging through The Brothers Karamozov, and plan a long hiatus from Mother Russia after that.

Bobby - agreed.

Floyd said...

I started the Brothers several years back and made it maybe 100 pages in before I read something lighter. And by lighter I mean it literally weighed several pounds less than that monster of a novel.

Nicolas Frisby said...

I was hoping for more karate from High Fidelity. Ever see War, Inc.? It was awesome. Deserves a prequel.

Is this movie pretty much the opposite of Serendipity?

I'll bring up (500) Days, since you breached the topic of post-break-up. The rejuvenation period JGL undergoes after ZD drops him is my post-relationship ideal. I was swelling with contentment as he climbed the stairs to his interview: a new independent person who seeks and finds contentment in his interactions with the whole world and his own development instead of in romantic belonging. He'd become a person first, a partner second. Autumn came a bit to soon, in my opinion.

And the tirade about love? Yes, yes, yes. Add another yes for the slow-clap attempt.

But ZD's happy marriage and JGL's return to "looking", as you say, is perhaps the film's admission that it is an unavoidable part of life, romance.

Rob is like a JGL that never finds that rhythm with the tennis ball. Instead of the neutral architecture, he proceeds with music, which clearly was not free of romance for him. To wit: He never emerges on an escalator. So he settles because romance is contentment for him, and he realizes that there's no reason to seek it out anymore since he has access to a fully matured romance already. "Fully matured romance" is an interesting concept I think. Deserves more thought, but I'll at least say each romance probably matures in various ways.

Is that contrast of JGL and Rob wholly inaccurate? I haven't seen the movie in years and didn't even know it was a book. I raed soemtimes.

dn said...

I only watched 500 Days of Summer once, and spent the running time making fun of JGL's vests, so I defer to Lindsey. She's the 500 Days expert.