Grosse Pointe Blank stars a Cusack who is conflicted, cocky, in love, and downright cool. He spews out wicked, long-winded speeches like a pitching machine at a batting cage- rhythmic, fast and consistent. The energy he brings to the project, which he co-wrote with Steve Pink, D.V. DeVincentis and Tom Jankiewicz, is contagious and each performer in the movie brings their A game. The Dan Aykroyd we used to see in hip, edgy SNL skits materializes for 100 minutes; Minnie Driver plays the perfect romantic foil for Cusack, and Alan Arkin has several priceless scenes. Grosse Pointe Blank’s mix of the absurd and the real world is near flawless. It’s as if Cusack and his friends took the best elements from The Sure Thing and Say Anything… and crafted one of the best roles of Cusack’s career. Coupled with the frantic pace director Georg Armitage brings to the film, Gross Pointe Blank remains a winner.
High Fidelity, also co-written by Cusack, Pinks and DeVincentis (this time with Scott Rosenburg), is a more adventurous film, with Cusack’s character breaking the fourth wall to address the audience and enjoyable flashbacks that show the development of Cusack’s depressed, love sick character, Rob. As directed by Stephen Frears, High Fidelity features a breakthrough performance by Jack Black, supporting appearances from Tim Robbins, Lili Taylor, and Catherine Zeta Jones, plus a cameo by one Bruce Springsteen. It also has an equally hip soundtrack to match Grosse Pointe Blank’s nostalgia tinged song selection. My problem with High Fidelity is that lack of connection I feel with Cusack. Without that emotional attachment, I appreciate the film, but I don’t love it.
Perhaps it’s because I adore Hornby’s book so much; it spoke to me in ways that the movie failed to do. Still, I thought that after years of not seeing the movie or having read the book my perception of the cinematic High Fidelity would change. After all, Cusack is one of my favorite actors and the subject matter (music, the lonely hearts of grown men) has great appeal to me. Alas, everything I found disappointing about the film the first time still existed. Rob mopes through most of the film and, honestly, I don’t feel like he’s actually grown by the end of the film (unlike the novel, which makes that clear). Furthermore, the snobs at the record store lose their charm after the first scene. They irritated me so much that I wanted to reach in and slap them for their rudeness. Sure, that’s part of their appeal to so many people; I just found them annoying.
Meanwhile, Grosse Pointe Blank, although a more straightforward narrative and also containing characters of questionable morals, clicked for me just as much as it did 15 years ago, when it was originally released. The jokes still work and Cusack appears much more at ease. As I said, I’m probably one of the few who perceive the films this way. With both of these now available on Blu-ray (picture quality A+; bonus features not so much), you can draw your own conclusions and post in the comments below.