WHEN: 10:06PM EST, October 27th, 2012
WHERE: At my apartment in Portland, ME (Alderaan)
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 47″ LCD HDTV
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Tired from work. Received a call from my mother right before I began, which pushed my start time till literally the last possible minute.
HIGH FIDELITY VS. HIGH FIDELITY:
The year is three-quarters gone, but I have finally read Nick Hornby’s novel. It was a very odd experience reading the source material for a movie that I now know backwards and forwards. I was simultaneously aware of every discrepancy, and cognizant of where the story was about to take me. Some chapters appear in the movie in their entirety, while some are almost entirely omitted, or chopped up into little pieces. Little things were changed here and there (Rob Fleming became Rob Gordon). For the most part, however, the tone and story make it intact into the film.
Somehow the iconic “spoons on the eyes” cover didn’t make it onto the movie poster.
For this, my first viewing since reading the book, I decided to take a look at the success and/or faithfulness of the adaptation. Given the subject at hand, I felt that the most appropriate way to do this would be with a couple of top five lists. So here, in no particular order, are the top five good and bad elements of the conversion from print to screen.
TOP FIVE THINGS THEY GOT RIGHT OR CHANGED FOR THE BETTER:
1. Dick and Barry
I have always considered the casting in High Fidelity to be one of the movie’s strong points, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Jack Black and Todd Louiso’s portrayal of Barry and Dick. No characters from the book are brought to life with as much vigor as these two. But in addition to the spot-on casting, their lines are cleverly Americanized, while keeping the tone from the book intact. Barry’s lines in particular come across as Jack Black-ized paraphrases of the originals, and while it would be fun to condemn that, Jack Black is exactly what the part called for.
2. Physical Ian Confrontation
The scene where Ian comes into the shop to give Rob a piece of his obnoxious hippie mind is one of the most memorable in the movie, so it might come as a bit of a surprise that in the book Rob and Ian never meet face to face. Ian and Rob have very much the same conversation over the phone (complete with alternate endings that Rob wishes he had the balls for). But for the visual medium, this would just not have been enough. Having Ian and Rob stare each other down maintains the tone and content of the scene, while raising the stakes by making it physical.
And giving us one of the film’s best images.
3. Dropping Jackie Allen (Alden)
In the movie, Jackie (whose name is changed from Allen to Alden for the film) only gets a quick mention, before being shrugged off as an also-ran. In the book she receives as much attention as any of the other members of Rob’s all-time top five. She was a girl who Rob stole away from one of his friends, Phil, because he envied their perfect relationship. Having gotten her, however, Rob realized that he didn’t care about her. Phil and Jackie get back together shortly thereafter.
There are a several reasons why I think dropping her for the movie was good call. Firstly, at an hour and fifty minutes, the film is a bit on the long side (for a comedy) as it is. Something needed to be cut, and of the five exes, Jackie is definitely the least interesting. Secondly, putting Laura onto the all-time top five break-ups list (a status she never acquires in the book) helps the already meandering film focus in on the Rob/Laura relationship. Thirdly, Rob come off as a big enough asshole without throwing “girlfriend thief” onto the pile of his misdeeds.
4. The Opening Speech
If there is one scene that High Fidelity is known for, it is Rob’s opening monologue. It sets up who Rob is and sets forth his two most defining characteristics: his love of music, and his failure with relationships. It is also cobbled together from various unconnected paragraphs in the novel. The writers really deserve kudos for Frankensteining those chunks into a truly iconic opening line. Good job.
5. The Fourth Wall Breaks
When I watch High Fidelity with people who have never seen it before, I almost always get the complaint, “Oh, it’s one of those movies where the guy talks to the audience?” Well, yes, it is, and I’m not sure there were any better options on the table. Almost the entirety of the book takes place in Rob Fleming’s head. Without some way of getting Rob’s thoughts to the audience, he would be about the most boring asshole you would ever want to meet. Yes, there are other ways of getting Rob’s thoughts across, but are they better? You could add a ton of voice-over narration, but the amounts we would need would just be silly. You could give Rob a friend to tell all of his feelings to, but you would have to spend precious time setting this new character up, and even more time explaining why they put up with Rob’s endless bullshit. Besides these, what other options are there? A diary? Don’t make me laugh. Going all Ferris Bueller with it really was the best route they could have taken.
“Would this really be any better if I wasn’t looking you in the eye?”
TOP FIVE BLUNDERS:
1. Mud Sex
I have long complained about a romantic moment being made of Laura’s pathetic request for sex from a muddy wet Rob. Now I have vindication. In the book, this scene turns anything but romantic. Rob refuses to have sex with Laura because they don’t have a condom. Laura has been with an unprotected Ian and Rob doesn’t trust Ian to be STD-free.
I’m sure he’s totally safe…
Rob admits that this is also a bit of an excuse to make Laura feel bad. What a great subversion of expectations that would have been, if just when it looks like the movie is about to get romantic, Rob throws that big wrench of sad reality in Laura’s already depressed face. It might not make Rob any more likable, but it sure would make his relationship with Laura a little more complicated.
2. Glossed-Over Marie DeSalle Encounter
Speaking of relationships getting gussied up for film, Rob’s relationship with Marie DeSalle (LaSalle in the book) has gotten a major overhaul. In the movie, Marie and Rob really hit it off, and you get the feeling that, were Rob not so hung up on Laura, there might be real relationship potential there. But, after a one-night stand, Rob walks off obsessing over his ex, never to think of Marie again. In the book, Marie and Rob are clearly coming from similar places. They are both lonely, isolated individuals for whom music is the only real escape. They meet and, out of a sense of desperation, end up sharing one kind of awkward evening, one pretty decent night of sex, and a morning of the mildest regret.
I think that what really bothers me is, now that I have read the book, Movie Marie seems more like a prop in Rob’s life than she does a real human being. She is someone who shows up, gives Rob something he needs, and happily recedes into the background. She is not, as she is in the books, a real, well-developed human being with her own needs, wants, and neuroses.
3. Vince and Justin vs. DJ Rob
Here’s a big one. Vince and Justin, the skate punks, were created solely for the movie. While the characters are fun and well-played, they are simply not necessary. In the book, there is a story line about Rob being a DJ. He really enjoyed doing it, but stopped after he met Laura. At the end of the book, Laura sets up an event where Rob can return to DJing. This is replaced in the movie, by Rob deciding to produce Vince and Justin’s record, and Laura planning the album release party.
In both of these scenarios, Laura supports Rob in a creative endeavor, but there is a subtle difference. In the movie, she is supporting him as he moves forward with his life. She is a positive influence helping him achieve the dream he barely knew he had. In the book, she is pushing him back into a role in life he as already moved away from. She is a negative influence slipping him into a comfortable pool of stagnation, the last thing he needs. In the book, getting back together with Laura is almost a relapse. In the movie, she is his salvation. I find the book’s version more interesting.
On a side note, in the novel, Rob is a completely different style of DJ. He plays dance records. He doesn’t do remixes. It might be a small change, but the book style seems a lot more in keeping with his character.
4. Compression of Time
In the film, the most interesting action takes place in the first three days after the break-up. After that, time begins to pass more quickly, with one or two things happening per day. (See this timeline for details.) In the book, however, the action takes a more uniform pace throughout. Now, I’m not sure what the pacing solution would be, but I do know that I have found that jump jarring for quite some time (since before I was even able to identify what it was). It’s like you’re watching hours pass, and suddenly days start flying by. Not quite right.
5. Rob and Laura Happy Together at Last
For the last twenty or so minutes of the movie, I start to get the feeling that we are in happily-ever-after territory. I mean, Rob and Laura look like they are getting along perfectly. Rob even says they are. This makes him looks like the world’s worst boyfriend when out of nowhere he start hitting on Caroline.
In the book, things aren’t so happy. They may be back together, but there are unresolved issues to work out, and they start working at them. The whole dream jobs sequence takes place during this segment in the book. It is the result of Laura trying to make Rob look at where his life is. They are constantly bickering. But they make some progress. Most importantly, it feels real… which the movie never quite did at this point. And when Rob starts flirting with Caroline, you can understand why, even if he still comes off as an ass.
But wait, I can’t stop at five…
6. Stalker Rob
In the book, Rob stops stalking Ian and Laura, after Liz gives him her little lecture. This really makes Rob into less of a creep. In the movie he is still hanging outside Ian’s apartment days later. Movie Ian may be obnoxious, but he sure has some justification for confronting Movie Rob. Book Ian is just an ass.
7. Books, Movies, Films
There is one scene in the book that goes a long long ways towards showing that Rob has changed as a person by the end. Laura takes Rob out to dinner with two of her friends. Rob genuinely ends up liking them. After dinner, Rob has an opportunity to see these people’s record collection, and it is horrible. Rob finally realizes that in some circumstances, it is not what you like, but what you are like that really matters. It is a poignant shift for Rob, and its absence from the movie really weakens Rob’s supposed transformation.
I’ve voiced my gripes, but on the whole, this is a good adaptation. It is faithful. It is entertaining. It retains a large amount of the complexity of the novel. And while I could pick holes in it indefinitely, it is important to remember that most book adaptations don’t even come this close. Yes, the book is better. But this is one of those rare occasions where you could probably get away with just watching the movie. I won’t tell on you.