"What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?"
So, in 2001, when I was 15, I ventured to the local Blockbuster and purchased a previously viewed VHS copy of this film for 10 dollars (yes, I spent $10 on a used VHS!) and my life was forever altered. In sitting down to attempt to write a review that even scratches the surface of just how crazy awesome and enlightening this movie is, I am at a loss. The story, the script, the casting choices, the pacing, and the brilliant story telling tropes all culminate in what is one of the perfect films not only about working in a record store, but about the complexities of life and relationships.
Rob: "Laura didn't even want to get married. That's not what happens now."
Rob's Mom: "Oh, I don't know what happens now, except you meet a girl, you move in, she goes! You meet a girl, you move in, SHE GOES!"
Rob: "Aw, SHUT UP, MOM!"
[Slams the phone receiver down, then muttering]
Rob: "God d@#n, that's some cold S!*t!"
Just to give a super brief summary of the story, Rob (played brilliantly and relatably by John Cusack) owns a record store and he has issues. The plot begins with Rob's intense breakup with his current girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle), then the camera pans to Rob who breaks the fourth wall to tell us about it. Thus begins our relationship with Rob as he tells stories, smokes cigarettes, waxes intellectual, remarks sarcastically, and drops some seriously insightful thoughts on life. We follow him through his everyday life and in the in-between moments he relates the stories of his "all time top five" worst break ups. With each past relationship we learn a little more about the character and how he became who he is. At some point he decides to try and talk to the women on the top of his worst break ups list in order to put them behind him, and hilarity ensues. That is the simplest summary of the plot - a record snob's journey of self discovery. Originally a novel written by Nick Hornby (which is also incredible), this story is a work of casual genius. While it is easy to write the film off as a romantic comedy, and it IS incredibly funny and realistically romantic, there are some life lessons shared through this little quick snapshot of Rob's life.
While the story is incredible and the script truly brings story to life, it would be nothing without the cast that signed on to be involved. While there is a certain amazing and indescribable quality to John Cusack (who also helped write the script), the supporting cast is what really makes this movie so special. The list of talented people in this film includes: Todd Louiso, Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Lili Taylor, Sara Gilbert, Jack Black and many many more! This is in fact the film that made me fall in love with the over the top comedic performances of Jack Black and I think I will always see him as the sloppy, crazed, angsty record snob.
"Yeah, seriously, you're totally elitist. You feel like the unappreciated scholars, so you shit onto people who know less than you."
But getting to the heart of why I love this film SOOOOOO much, it's because I see myself in all of the characters. The depth of character development truly lets you relate to and feel akin to the people of Championship Vinyl (and the local universe surrounding the store). The way that the story unfolds and the pacing are so perfect that every time you sit down to watch this movie is like having a beer with an old friend (someone who you are/were so close to that you can finish each other’s sentences). One of the aspects of the narrative that really sells this feeling is the fact that Rob actually is talking directly to US, the viewers, and in some scenes ACTUALLY IS having a beer with us! Though this could very easily have been an ineffective method and proven trite, the way that John Cusack plays Rob makes it incredibly effective.
So in conclusion, this film is charming, funny, insightful and you should most definitely own it. Out of all of the films that I have written about for this series this is the one that I have spent the most time with, and the one that I return to the most. Not a year goes by that I don't revisit this film, and it gets even better with age. While it may seem obvious that I would like this movie as it has a direct relation to my life, I would bet my life savings (which is a few hundred doll-hairs) that you, whoever you might be, will find this story and the characters just as charming as I do.
- Edward Hill