Saturday, August 9, 2008
THE #3 WITH A SMILE
After over twenty posts, it's high time that an appearance is made by one of my favorite actors: John Cusack, and discussion of the "Cusack canon". Now, let me limit for a moment what I consider the "Cusack canon", and then perhaps this rating will make a bit more sense. John Cusack has had a long and illustrious career in Hollywood, appearing in over 50 films, but has never had that one giant, breakthrough role to catapult him into the upper echelons of Hollywood. Instead, he's made his career on being the outsider character, the unlikely hero who the average guy can resonate with. People admire a Christian Bale or, from Cusack's own generation, a Charlie Sheen or Emilio Estevez, but they like John Cusack.
And so, when I speak of the "Cusack Canon", I'm talking about the Cusack movies in which Cusack is Cusack, the ones where he gives soliloquies to the camera and pontificates about the meaning of life. There have been four of these films: Say Anything, Better off Dead, High Fidelity, and Gross Pointe Blank. Not to take anything away from Being John Malkovich or Bullets over Broadway, which are great turns by him in their own right, but these are outside the pale. These films have four criterion that unite them: 1) the turn of pontification to the camera, 2) a scene where he talks philosophically to his lady love in elemental duress (rain, snow, gunfire), 3) the girl is just out reach, and 4) an exorcism of some high-school version of himself must be performed before attaining said girl. They're variations on the same character, but at the same time, they're the characters that I feel the most identification with, as in these roles, Cusack blurs the line between actor and audience and imparts direct wisdom, invoking true response from the watcher.
In re-watching High Fidelity last night with Sarah, who had never seen it before, I was struck with how narcissistic his character really is. It's one of his darker characters--still funny, still one people can relate to--but dark, morose. He's not the hero you can feel sorry for: his romantic problems are self-induced, and he's prone to double-standards for himself and his girlfriend. But his honesty and deep probing of the grey matter of life make for an engaging character. Unlike the hapless Lloyd Dobbler, who can't seem to catch a break, Rob Gordon makes his own breaks and decisively choses which breaks to not take; Lloyd is ready to climb the mountain for his lady, while Rob is done with mountain climbing and ready to mine through the thing instead of climbing over it.
Sarah remarked in watching it that the film doesn't follow the normal rising action-resolution-denouement of film: there are multiple crises for Rob, with multiple dance steps, as Rob moves from marginally committed to fully committed. But this is part of the genius of this movie--it's about a real relationship, which never move on the Meg Ryan pattern of A to B to C. The relational world is one of a constantly shifting alphabet, where A is sometimes followed by L, and preceded by V; sometimes, you're stuck at C for months, only to zing forward to Q and quickly back to M. Some people live whole lives at R. And thus, I could totally relate to this back and forth, stutter step version of a relationship, in which the guy is trying to get his act together, only to be sabotaged by his own worst version of himself.
The scene in the bar where he talks to Laura about the difference between a fantasy relationship and a real one is worth the whole film; it may be his best scene in any of the four films. I'm not at all a fan of the girlfriend in this one--Minnie Driver in Gross Pointe is by far the best--but the insertion of Jack Black as the CD snob sidekick is more than enough to boot this one into the #3 slot of the 4. For a time, I had it last, but in re-evaluation, the philosophical musings and Jack Black's shenanigans move it ahead of Better off Dead, which is good, but not good enough for #3.
Four used Clash records out of five.