On the surface, High Fidelity is a story about breaking up and getting back together again. Only, thanks to director Stephen Frears narrative technique, we dont realize this until the credits start to roll. He plunges into the life of Rob Gordon, played by John Cusack, on the night his girlfriend, Laura, leaves him. Robs subsequent depression and self-analysis is the focus of the film; getting the girl back becomes secondary. Robs frustration from his break up with Laura reminds him of all of his other failed relationships, specifically, his Top Five All Time Break Ups List.
His recounts of each girl are interspersed throughout the first half of the film. We only learn about Laura as we learn about Robs past. Consequently, the main part of the narrative is either flashbacks or direct commentary by Rob to the audience. This might seem to be a weakness, but it is in fact a vehicle for Frear to move the present plot forward. It is only through understanding Robs past, that we can understand his current angst. In addition, the slow revelation of the causes for his and Lauras break up reinforces Robs own mental journey.
We learn things as Rob himself is ready to deal with them. For example, it is only when Liz, a mutual friend, marches into Robs record store and yells profanity at him, that Rob begins to think of what Laura probably told Liz. He finally lets the audience in on some of the things he did to cause the break up. Yet Rob still hasnt fully grasped what happened between him and Laura. It is a great strength, and in fact the very nature of the film, that we are limited to Robs mental struggle. All of the information is slowly laid out, to him, and to us.
In his struggle to understand his current break up, Rob becomes obsessed with his past relationships, and decides to go out with them all again and ask them what went wrong. His discoveries give him a whole new perspective. Basically, he realizes that although he was dumped, he is now glad now that each of them ended. For example, he discovers that Charlie, who he has always imagined as the perfect woman, is in his own words awful. Not only that, he finds that she broke up with him for purely superficial reasons.
In another case, he is appalled by the neediness of his ex-girlfriend and is grateful that she dumped me, and not the other way around. He also comments that he could have had sex with her, but that he wouldnt be sleeping with a person. After these kind of enlightenments, Rob also has a whole new appreciation for Laura. Once again, the audiences perspective is linked with Robs personal journey. The perspective of the film is further reinforced by the way in which Rob speaks directly into the camera. It gives the film a quickly paced, informal structure.
Yet Frear doesnt trap the audience in Robs perspective alone. Rather, it is the supporting cast that really defines Rob for us. Rob gives us commentary on an event, but we get to see the cast members physically create the event and judge for ourselves. Basically, we see how he learns to live in the real world. Instead of perpetually feeling sorry for himself and blaming other people, he starts acknowledging his own failings. His concept of his whole dating history and his idea of relationships start to change. He is beginning to mature. The plot rewards this maturity with the return of Laura into his life.
Robs new appreciation and maturity is shown in the final sequence in which he tells the audience he is making a mix tape for Laura, full of things that she will like. High Fidelity is an entertaining, but poignant look at breaking up. So many stories trivialize it or play it for cheap comedy. This one is more interested in exploring what a breakup does to the psyche. Through the creative narrative techniques of flashbacks and candid monologues, the audience becomes fully engaged in Robs struggle. Cusack is able to represent the despair of a broken heart and to pull it off with real humanity.