Monday, March 10, 2014

Better than the Book--Close but No Cigar Edition: High Fidelity

I think John Cusack and Stephen Frears made as good a movie as one can possibly make when adapting Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I like the movie quite a bit.  Once, when I was watching it with some friends who hadn’t seen it before, one of them asked why the movie wasn’t over when Laura moved back in with Rob. It’s a valid point.  Most romantic comedies would have ended with that. The only problem was that Rob really hadn’t changed yet. He’d made some realizations, and he’d promised to do better, but we haven’t seen him capable of it. This is one element that elevates this film:  It doesn’t let Rob off easy. It’s not too hard on him, in the end, but he has to put forth a lot more effort than most leading men.  

 Another friend who read the book said it was just exactly like the movie, only with more Top 5 lists.  This is mostly true. There’s more to the book, of course.  There’s a lot more to Rob’s relationship with Marie LaSalle in the book. She pops up again and again, though her role isn’t substantially different. One of those times is Rob’s birthday, when he organizes an ad hoc gathering of his “friends.” It isn’t successful—nobody involved seems to have any fun, and all we really learn is that Rob doesn’t really have friends. There’s nothing there that would make for a good movie scene, and it was rightfully dropped.  As were scenes where Rob goes to visit his parents and all the stuff about the fourth breakup on his top 5 list. 

There are some things the movie does better than the book, such as the one-night stand with Marie. In the movie, Rob says he’s not going into details—“who did what to whom”—and he doesn’t.  In the book he says this, then proceeds to describe their awkward foreplay, a strange trip to the bathroom, and he sexual neuroses. It’s actually kind of annoying to read that part, simply because the movie handled it so nicely. But the book needs this sort of glimpse into Rob. We know the Rob in the book much much better than the Rob of the movie. And he’s more of an a-hole than the movie version at that. They’re mostly the same character, though the movie version is softened a bit for our benefit.  There’s one big difference in them: Rob in the book doesn’t commit because he’s afraid of death.

His low point in the story is when he leaves Laura’s dad’s funeral. He sits on a bench in the rain and realizes his big problem. Both movie and book have this tied overall to the fantasy presented by women he doesn’t really know. He can imagine these women so reality never ruins anything. But with Laura he has the reality, and it can’t match up.  In the book, Hornby's Rob has a strange realization that he’s always been afraid that Laura would die and he’d be alone, though he’d never realized it until then.  It’s strange and out of place and there’s absolutely no build-up to it at all. Even Hornby acknowledges this in a way with the interjection “oh, right! He sleeps with other women because he has a fear of death!—well, I’m sorry, but that’s the way things are.”

I wonder…If I’d read the book before I saw the film, which omits it completely, would I still think it’s strange?

Anyway, all the best stuff between the characters is there in the book, and there’s more of it.  Even things like gestures and body language are there in the prose, which was a bit surprising.  The actors nail their characters. The script gets all the right parts in there.  There’s just more to the book, and that is a good thing. Hornby is able to give a bit more of the everyman philosophy and the feeling of grown up. The change of setting isn’t a big deal (London of the book is Chicago in the movie). The only argument that the film is superior could come from the delivery, from the actors, and direction.  There’s not much of the cinematography to speak of, which is appropriate. This is one of those cases where the adaptation got everything right, and the novel is just going to be superior.

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