It’s often remarked that this is one of the few romantic comedies that is primarily targeted at men rather than women, but its exploration is far deeper and more ambitious than what we normally associate with the term ‘romantic comedy’.
It’s a brutally honest and highly insightful film, and even if the lead character is something of a creep, he’s still one of the most relatable characters I’ve seen in a film, because he’s the kind of creep all of us secretly know we are on some level. And when we watch as he unravels his neuroses and asks how he became what he is now, we come to truly understand him and see clear parallels between his story and the stories of our own relationships and emotional scars.
The film is one of the most relatable of its time, perhaps of all time, and can actually be a rather uncomfortable mirror of both relationship issues and professional and artistic stagnation, but it never comes across as heavy or depressing, because it is leavened with a great deal of extremely effective humor. What’s impressive is that none of this humor breaks the sense of reality the way most comedies do…it’s all within the limits of character, even for Jack Black’s scene-stealing role as an outrageously funny rock snob working in the main character’s record shop.
John Cusack gives an incredibly honest and appropriately quirky performance in the lead, never whitewashing the character’s unpleasant qualities but somehow managing to make him extremely likable, and the supporting cast is generally strong, with lots of memorable cameos by big-name actors and Jack Black in particular stealing every scene he’s in.
The movie also makes wonderful use of music…several of the finest Indie Rock songs of the time, including “Cold Blooded Old Times” by Smog and “Seymour Stein” by Belle and Sebastian, won their popularity primarily due to their use in this film, and Jack Black’s surprisingly well-sung rendition of “Let’s Get It On” and the fadeout to “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” are some of the most memorable music cues of the era.
In fact, that’s probably a large part of why the Broadway adaptation of this film was such a disaster…because it already has the perfect musical accompaniment, and no original score could possibly musicalize this story as well as its expertly chosen soundtrack already does. In both its use and discussion of music and its analysis of human relationships, this is one of the most fascinating films I’ve covered, and will probably appeal to just about all audiences simply because the story it delves into is so universal.