(director: Stephen Frears; screenwriters: D.V. DeVincentis/Steve Pink/ John Cusack/ Scott Michael Rosenberg/based on the novel by Nick Hornby; cinematographer: Seamus McGarvey; editor: Mick Audsley; cast: John Cusack (Rob Gordon), Iben Hjejle (Laura), Todd Louiso (Dick), Jack Black (Barry), Lisa Bonet (Marie De Salle), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Charlie), Joan Cusack (Liz), Tim Robbins (Ian), Shannon Stillo (Alison), Joelle Carter (Penny), Lili Taylor (Sarah), Natasha Gregson Wagner (Caroline); Runtime: 113; USA Pictures; 2000)

“…the plot could have been better explored if it was discovered what the plot was.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Cusack is Rob Gordon. He’s a neurotic, 30-something, who hasn’t grown up. He is the Chicago record store owner of Championship Vinyl carrying CD’s and vinyl LP’s for musical connoisseurs, in a small store that is barely surviving. This wormy role is one that he has been seemingly typecast for in most of his films to date. His narcissistic performance totally grossed-me out; even though, I liked a few things about this feel good, quirky movie. But, the plot could have been better explored if it was discovered what the plot was. Cusack spent nearly ninety percent of the film’s time looking right at the camera and explaining to the young adult audience targeted what he was thinking and doing, as if these people couldn’t figure it out for themselves.

Rob is griping to the camera about his failures in romance and in imitation of the David Letterman’s TV show shtick of making Top 10 lists to elicit laughs from the audience, Rob has recently completed his “Top 5 list of all-time breakups.” He starts with a junior high school kissing marathon in the baseball field’s bleachers with Allison (Stillo) that lasted six hours, before he was dumped for another. Next he reminisces about the sexy Charlie (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who can’t stop talking and saying inane things, which he found amusing at the time as he wondered why someone so stunning would go out with him. Then there is Penny (Carter); she is someone who won’t give him sex, so he dumps her. There is his 4th breakup with sweet Sarah (Lili Taylor), for no valid reason. His 5th breakup is with is recent girlfriend and is what the film covers.

Even though, Rob can’t quite admit it yet, his present breakup might be the hardest one for him to recover from since his lawyer girlfriend might be the one he was always looking for. Laura (Iben Hjejle-a Danish actress making her American debut) is the best thing about this film. Her lips are of a succulent ruby red color and when she pouts or a small smile comes over her, there is a very sensuous crease that also comes over her mouth and chin area — plus she has a nice laugh and cries in a dignified manner when she has to. She stops being Rob’s live-in lover as the film opens, moving out of his musically decorated pad because he’s a drip, has no ambition, and failed to commit to her. She moves in with her upstair’s neighbor, Ian (Tim Robbins), who is another drip though of the “New Age” variety. He does crisis intervention therapy, and is adorned with earrings and a ponytail.

What the film does well is capture the nostalgia and musty atmosphere of a place where music geeks hang-out, memorizing tunes and excitedly reciting them back-and-forth to each other as if they were idiot savants who overdosed on sugar. The picture is stolen by the two snobbish musical clerks who inhabit Rob’s store as if it were the Vatican of the music world, and those not up to snuff with their elitist thinking on musical taste are snubbed by them. Jack Black is Barry, the more hostile and comically inclined of the two, who is a burst of loudness in the dead sea of music trivia. He’s a Van Morrison clone without the singer’s voice or forbearance or manners. His other partner and fellow expert in pop culture music is the more timid but equally snobbish, Dick (Todd Louiso). Without these two, you wouldn’t have had a film about music geeks–but a film about a monologue of Cusack talking to Cusack, interrupted only when he talks to the other Cusack in the film, his sister. The clerks’ attitude toward the customers was brusque, but the exchanges that resulted were very dear. In one encounter, with a middle-aged man wanting to buy for his daughter’s birthday Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, a record Barry disapproves of–he tells the would-be customer that they have the record, but he won’t sell it to him and that he should go to the mall: “That the only way his daughter would like that song, is if she were in a coma.”

In keeping with the spirit of the film, I made a Top 5 list of things I liked about the film and a more involved Top 5 list of things that I didn’t like about the film.

First, what I liked: 1. The soundtrack kicked ass. 2. The two musical geek clerks were funnier than Batman and Robin in hell. 3. I didn’t have to pronounce Iben Hjejle’s name to know what I liked about her. 4. Lisa Bonet made up for her inconsequential part and gratuitous sex scene, by adding a beautiful song to the film and a warm presence to a not so hot story. 5. I can count on my left hand how many films were made about geek music-store clerks who work in musical stores that are not in a mall.

What I didn’t like: 1. I can’t handle watching a needlessly long film (over two hours) such as this one, with someone as self-absorbed as John Cusack, without getting a headache. 2. The story seemed to be never-ending. 3. It seemed to be poorly edited and written with a few different endings in mind and failed to make its rewrites seamless. 4. The film has not been improved by changing the setting from London to Chicago. 5. The love angle was predictable and wimpy. I couldn’t stand to see Cusack begging and carrying on so much to worm his way back into the relationship with Laura. I was rooting for him, against all odds, to be left out in the cold and rain by the end of the movie without a girlfriend.