'High Fidelity' 20 Years Later: Music, Misery & The Man-Children Of Nick Hornby [Be Reel Podcast]

Welcome to the arrested world of Nick Hornby. In the movie adaptations of his books, you’ll find man-children of all stripes: from John Cusack‘s iconic role in “High Fidelity” (2000) to Hugh Grant‘s lovable cad in “About a Boy” (2002), to Ethan Hawke‘s loser indie rocker in “Juliet, Naked” (2018).

On a new Be Reel, “High Fidelity” is our hook, as the cult-favorite both turns 20 years old and sees itself reworked as a Hulu series this spring. If you don’t know the age-old, fourth-wall-breaking tale of music and misery, Rob (Cusack) has just been dumped by his long-term girlfriend for being a rudderless, snobbish loser with a failing record store and a group of friends who are similarly afflicted. Through lists, cameos from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, verbose musical references, a Lisa Bonet subplot and chain-smoking indoors, Rob and co. must finally grow up and realize what it means to be in an adult relationship. In our podcast, Noah, too, must reconcile why this movie meant so much to him as a teenager.

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Moving to “About a Boy,” Will Freeman (Grant) must realize that living as an island is not a sustainable mantra. Backed by the royalties accrued from a cloying Christmas single his father penned in 1958, this childless loner is perhaps more nightmarish than Rob but is somehow softened by how ridiculous his new romantic gambit: faking single fatherhood to woo single mothers. When this lie falls on its face, Will becomes connected to a young boy, Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), dealing with the real-world ramifications of his mother’s depression. 

Finally, in “Juliet, Naked,” the POV shifts (for better or worse) to a female museum curator, Annie (Rose Byrne), dealing with one of these aforementioned man-children. Two of them to be exact! One is the reclusive indie rocker Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) and the other her longterm boyfriend (Chris O’Dowd), a Crowe fanboy of the highest order. Can you sense the hijinks yet? When a critical review elicits a response from the aged rocker, Annie and Tucker become transatlantic pen-pals, and maybe more.

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If all these synopses sound sort of similar, it’s because they are, and it’s why we do this podcast: to poke at the tropes our favorite writers and filmmakers concoct at their best and fall back on at their worst. In turn, we can look at our own understanding of movie heartbreak and potentially subvert the disingenuous or unhelpful parts of these navel-gazing rock fables. And, maybe find the universality of them as critiques of all people, as we’ll be exploring in the gender-switched reboot of “High Fidelity” on Hulu. Look for that episode in a couple of days!