Sunday, January 08, 2012

Scene Stealer: High Fidelity

I’m sure we’ve all experienced moments when we’ve come face to face with someone who’s the last person we want to see and imagine all the ways in which we’d actually like to handle the situation versus taking the high road. It’s for this reason that the scene in High Fidelity where Rob (John Cusack) receives an unexpected visit from Ian (Tim Robbins) is so fun and rings so true.

Ian is dating Rob’s ex-girlfriend. He’s a smarmy, condescending weasel who visits Rob’s record store to “sort things out” because Rob’s been calling Laura incessantly and hanging around outside his house. I guess Ian’s got a point, but he’s so unlikeable that you totally side with Rob regardless. High Fidelity is a character-driven, situational comedy and the two characters in this situation combine to form a scene stealer that features three different takes on a confrontation between Rob and Ian.

What I like about this scene and about John Cusack’s portrayal of Rob is that he plays the character so naturally and realistically. His facial expressions and reactions are genuine responses to what he’s going through. When he walks out of the back room of his record store and spots Ian, you can see the shock register on his face momentarily and then turn to rage. And when Ian calls him on hanging outside his house that very morning after Rob says “I’ve stopped all that now,” Cusack’s grimace of admittance and resignation is so bang on.

As Ian goes on about how special Laura is and how he understands Rob’s devastation at losing her, you just hope (at least I did) that Rob’s going to go off on his ass because who likes fake sympathy and condescension and being talked down to, right? What ensues are inspired fantasies in which Rob, Dick and Barry (Rob’s employees at the store) ream Ian out and kick the shit out of him in three different takes on the scene. In reality, Rob silently and sullenly acquiesces and Ian leaves the store unscathed.

High Fidelity makes us root for Rob and makes us hope that he will find happiness in love. When Rob lets Ian walk out feeling like he one-upped him, empathy arises. Most of us have probably found ourselves in a similar situation where we want to be brutally honest and say and do exactly what’s on our minds but choose instead to hold it all in. High Fidelity succeeds because it deals with a universal subject and makes it feel so real. Break-ups are universal, and the film does a superb job of displaying all of the various emotions that arise and all of the strange situations that occur as a result of them. Case in point: this scene stealer.


  1. A great scene among many from that film. I remember the first time I saw it. Pretty sure I laughed for 30 straight seconds at Dick smashing the phone into Ian's face. Teriffic stuff.

  2. Great scene from a very good film that made me love the novel even more. Nice post here man!

  3. That is my favorite scene of the film. It's because of all of the possibilities Rob was going to do. I would've joined Rob, Dick, and Barry to kick the shit out of Ian.

    Man, that guy was a douche.

  4. @Emil - That scene always stood out for me, but you're right, there are so many other great ones. The film is so good!

    @Dan O - Thanks! (it's JBT, btw, ant not boss man, CS.) I haven't read the novel, but I've always wanted to. I think I'll pick it up now that I've got High Fidelity on the brain.

    @thevoid99 - "So that's it then." I hate the way Ian says that line so condescendingly. He's a real douche indeed.

  5. I concur. For me, the whole movie was one great long scene.

  6. @iluvcinema - it's a great film. I need to watch it again.

  7. This is the most memorable sequence in the film. I remember being totally fooled the first time it went through.

    It's a movie I personally love though do to it's love of music and lists.

  8. @Max - when you first watch the film and see this scene, it does dupe you until you see the second take. The film has got a great soundtrack.

  9. I liked this movie quite a bit. When I first saw "High Fidelity" and "scene stealer" I thought you were going to mention Jack Black. I remember wondering where this guy came from, then over the next couple of years discovered I had seen him in about a dozen movies and TV shows already and never realized it (i.e. Demolition Man, Dead Man Walking, etc.)

    I also had no clue that the actress who played Rob's lost love wasn't American until I saw the Danish film Mifune a year or two later. It took me about a quarter of the film to figure out why she looked so familiar.

  10. @Chip Lary - When I decided to write a scene stealer post on High Fidelity, I was originally going to write about the scene where Jack Black tells the middle-aged guy who comes into the record store to buy a record for his daughter to get out, but then I remembered the scene with Ian and Rob and went with that.

    Many of the great scenes in High Fidelity feature Jack Black - I think he's a big reason why the movie is so good. I first took notice of Jack Black in High Fidelity, too, without realizing that I had seen him previously in other films.

    I had never seen the actress who plays Rob's girlfriend before High Fidelity. Has she made any other English films since? I'll have to Google her.


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