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.