Backed by a fitting soundtrack, this comedy drama about loves and losses is a lovely watch that feels poetic and real. The star of the show in Cusack leads us through his life and you get caught up in the up and down nature of his problematic views on relationships and commitment.
Music aficionado and record store owner Rob Gordon (John Cusack) has just come out of a relationship with Laura (Iben Hjejle) which hits him harder than he initially wants to admit. Flashing back through past break-ups Rob wonders what it is about the long gone exes that may influence him now and what it is about Laura that makes him obsess over her.
Based on a Nick Hornby novel, this screenplay by Steve Pink, Scott Rosenberg, D.V. DeVincentis and John Cusack captures that British control freak quality and wit and manages to put it into an American setting without it ever feeling manipulated or odd. The way a lot of the script is delivered helps in giving the film a relatable personal flavour. Hearing and seeing Rob talk directly to the camera and therefore the audience lands the story right in our laps as if this plot is being spoken to only you. Another brilliant note of this screenplay is incorporating the love of top 5 lists, which go from girls to musical playlists and each one hits the money in delivery and content.
Stephen Frears directs the film with a dramatic touch, it’s not gritty per say, but it’s not smoothed out or glossy. The grungy backdrop of the record store and the city it resides in feels like an indie film, there’s a solid look to spilling the beans of Rob’s plight and it feels moody and down enough to accompany the down beat quality of Rob’s presence in the film. The little flair it has benefits the comedy aspect of the movie, be it in the flash backs or the little moments of what if, concerning Rob squaring up to Ian/Ray.
The philosophical side of the show is a little bit wet. Quite wimpy and much to be honest, not overbearing but it’s as if it is drifting off into ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ territory. This poetic side of loves and heartbreaks, the stares and moods of long gone quick romances is somewhat funny but also vaguely dreary and pretentious at the same time. There is a great level of empathy for Rob’s character but you can’t help questioning why you’re on his side, he’s not exactly the most likable figure and his whingeing grates more than it relates. I get that the film is knowing of the over played self doubting aspect of it’s subject matter but it’s indeed over played.
John Cusack is on fine form as this grumpy yet romantic lead. He does portray the messiness of man well, that unsure stance on women and life, even if that furled up face of his becomes a boring repetition. Cusack is fantastic in guiding the film, his narration and tour guide leadership of the dialogue is great and is insightful. Iben Hjejle is a shining beacon as the worn down ex of Rob’s. She gives the film just as enough reason to be watched by women as by men. Her side of the story gives the movie that necessary romantic drama to be believable and you are more on her side actually than Rob’s, a lot of the time. Jack Black turns it to 11 as the rocky snob, the annoying sidekick and daft friend and we all know he can do wonders at those things.
That sense of British wonder and wit is transplanted into a transatlantic world and fits wonderfully. Led by Cusack and echoed by a dazzling soundtrack this noughties film speaks volumes about the crumbling qualities of relationships in all its highs and lows.