The thing is, we like assholes. In film, I mean.
(I considered Liz's (Joan Cusack) great line as the title for this entry, but "Fucking asshole!" as a title seemed like it might get the wrong sort of attention.)
(Rob's (John Cusack) "I am a fucking asshole." would have worked, too.)
Rob Gordon is an asshole. Han Solo is an asshole. Peter Venkman is an asshole. Katniss Everdeen is an asshole. Phil Connors is an asshole. Pretty much every action hero ever, any cad from any romantic comedy... Anyone whose story is worth telling on film is probably an asshole in some way. They have to be. That is who gets things done.
At least in any form that can be covered in like an hour and a half. Take the new movie Sleight for example--Bo (Jacob Latimore) deals drugs for the sake of getting by, mutilates his body for the sake of magic, and is willed to violence a little too easily long before the climax of the film--
(This not being a review, I won't bother with SPOILERS)
--forces him into more of it. But, the film puts us into his corner and offers just enough justification for us to support him. Because that's what movies do. What film does.
Rob Gordon in High Fidelity is definitely an asshole. He obsesses about women in all the wrong ways, he treats his friends like crap arbitrarily, and he is so full of himself as to think that, as they say, his shit don't stink.
And, whether we admit it or not, to ourselves or to anybody, we all wish we could be like Rob, revolve the world around ourselves, make our bullshit the most important bullshit, do whatever we want and make excuses when it backfires. That is basically the premise to any action hero. I mean, sure, maybe the villain has kidnapped his daughter (e.g. Commando), or he's a virtually-immortal serial killer (e.g. Friday the 13th), or maybe he's just a bigger asshole (e.g. The Quick and the Dead). Or the hero's assholishness makes him his own villain (e.g. Groundhog Day)...
Which is basically life itself, right?
But, you know what's nice in High Fidelity, for today's example. Dick (Todd Louiso)--he's like an innocent counterpoint to the whole asshole thing; he is nothing but nice. Even his attempt to get Rob and Barry (Jack Black) to stop fighting early in the film is practically passive. And, he doesn't learn to get hard as Rob gets soft, as some movies might suggest is the way to go--
(Though it is not the type of film I'm getting at, Stallone's bit at the end of Demolition Man comes to mind: "Why don't you get a little dirty... You a lot clean. And, somewhere in the middle--I don't know--you'll figure it out.")
--he just stays who he is. And he gets the girl in his own story that we're just seeing snippets of because we're stuck in Rob's story instead.
Which seems to be the better place to be, storywise.
Or the more popular place to be, anyway. I mean, classic 90s indie films certainly had plenty of non-assholes front and center. But, who but crazy movie freaks like me even saw most of those?
Not that High Fidelity broke box office records. It was #5 it's opening weekend, but it was March so it only made $6 million that weekend ($27 million in its entire run).
(And, for the record, if I didn't already mention this, I saw High Fidelity that weekend. And, I also saw The Skulls. And, I realize now that, aside from a certain affinity for the asshole at center stage, my attachment to this film might stem from my own situation at the time it came out. Recent breakup, depression (affecting my Depression), and a certain "what does it all mean" kind of thing going on.
Plus, clearly, I'm just as obsessive and full of myself as Rob is. That whole affinity thing.)
But look at big blockbuster films. The Marvel movies, for example. Tony Stark--obvious asshole. Thor--pretentious asshole. Steve Rogers--down home asshole (Seriously, he turns on his teammates on behalf of his dead, brainwashed, former friend.) The remake of Beauty and the Beast is the top movie of this year so far, and that's just asshole and Stockholm Syndrome throughout.
Also it's what every love story tends to be--the notion that we are incomplete without that other, better half. And, that is a sad (but true) building block for a story. I mean, Rob's opening line about what came first, the music or the misery, rings so true here. I mean, is he an asshole for looking at women the way he does, or does he look at women the way he does because he's an asshole? Does he look at women the way he does because society (and film and music and stories going back as long as we've had stories) tell him that it's okay because he's a man and man are on top and you gotta be an asshole to get what you want, and if you don't get what you want, you're just a chump? Does society revere assholes because society is run by assholes, or is society run by assholes because it reveres them? Did we elect Trump because he was the bigger asshole or because we are?
That transition was inevitable, by the way. I actually figured I would start talking about Trump closer to the top of this entry. I'm kinda proud of myself for the restraint. I mean, you've got (after the primaries) boring old Hillary who we've known (politically) for decades, or exciting new Trump who speaks his mind and says stupid reactionary crap like we all do. Of course he's going to win. Of course we're going to go all in on xenophobia and homophobia and whatever reactionary conservative fears can be belayed with a bombast in the Oval Office. Because, for some twisted reason, that kind of boorish crap is comforting. We don't want people to get handouts, we don't want to help refugees, because we want everyone to be assholes who can take care of themselves.
Political angle, over.
Except inasmuch as all film is political. All stories are political. And, all politics is stories. And everything twists together over and over and forever and it doesn't matter what film I'm watching, I can turn it into something that will offend one person and inspire another, just like any of my political lines on Twitter or Facebook... Because that's what kind of an asshole I am.