This I think is a film that could very easily have flopped. Based on a book by Nick Hornby which you could argue is very English, the film tries to be very true to the book yet translate it from England to Chicago, with an American in the main role. Despite this however I’m glad to say that it works & works brilliantly. (It might also be worth pointing out that the film of Hornby’s other best-seller ‘Fever Pitch’ kept it’s English setting &, er, well – it was a bit crap really, wasn’t it?).
Stephen Frears seems a good choice of director – his CV shows he’s nothing if not versatile, his previous films including gems like ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’, ‘Sammy & Rosie Get Laid’, ‘Prick Up Your Ears’ & the magnificent ‘Dangerous Liaisons’. Being born in Leicester, England possibly helped as well!
The 2nd major area where this film gets it right is in it’s choice of star – John Cusack is perfect for this role, & I don’t think anyone in the world – whether English, American or Rarotongan – could do it as well.
Cusack plays Rob, a 30-something in a permanent relationship crisis who owns a specialist record store with very few customers, & who is obsessed with:
2) His soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Laura
3) Making lists
(Bit of an attempt at post-modern writing there for those of you who appreciate such things)
The film starts with his girlfriend Laura moving out of his dingy apartment complaining that, as a high-flying lawyer, she feels they have grown apart since they met in a nightclub several years before, & she could no longer tolerate his lack of ambition. This sets the scene for Rob to tell us about his ‘top 5 hurtful break-ups’ – in chronological order. What follows is a very funny & very perceptive series of descriptions of bungled relationships, made all the more funny due to their not only being so damn SILLY, but also for their being so true to life that you are almost guaranteed to recognise yourself in at least 1 of them!
This I think is the crux of the film’s, & the book’s appeal: the situations Rob & his cohorts get into & describe are not only hilarious but also close enough to so many people’s real life experiences that you find yourself laughing not just at hapless Rob, but also at yourself as you recognise bits of yourself in him. It is a rare thing indeed where a film can not only be side-splittingly funny, but also make intelligent social comment such that it makes you think about your own life, relationships & motivation – & this is a film that achieves this superbly.
(I am aware that this is coming pretty much from a male perspective – however I think women who watch this film will have just as much if not more fun as they recognise various male characters they’ve come across during their lives – perhaps even ones who might be sitting there next to them).
Contributing to this are Rob’s 2 record-store employees Dick & Barry – played by Todd Louiso & Jack Black. These are two comic actors of the highest calibre, who very nearly steal every scene they’re in, & against an actor as accomplished as Cusack this is quite an achievement. They are both, in very different ways, appalling yet loveable geeks, & provide a great foil for Rob’s wryness – aiding & abetting him as he decides not only to win Laura back but also to visit all his ‘top 5 break-up ex’s’ in order to exorcise a few ghosts of his past.
The film is also notable for several fine cameos: Lisa Bonet, Joan Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tim Robbins as a new-age new man (yes, really) & Bruce Springsteen as himself (yes, really!).
This is a superb film: extremely funny, yet also perceptive & thought-provoking, & with a wonderfully eclectic soundtrack. I for one will never view Al Green in the same light again! Brilliant.