High Fidelity, the novel written by Nick Hornby, and the film adaptation, directed by Stephen Frears, both portrayed the vital information for the plot however, Hornby was able to convey the ideas better through literary techniques. The novel was adapted into a feature film in 2000 starring John Cusack as Rob and directed by Stephen Frears. The movie was accurate in portraying the novel to a certain extent.
The film was able to successfully represent the main ideas of the original novel but when it came to the minute details, it was lacking the contributions of the story that gave it a certain tone that the Hornby, was trying to convey to his audience. The most noticeable differences are: the importance, or the unnecessary significance, described of Rob’s previous girls other than Laura; the visual similarities of the characters of the novel to the characters of the film; and the use of literary techniques and filming techniques that add emphasis to the story in different ways from the novel and the film’s perspectives.
The opening prologue that sets the tone for the novel describes the top five break-ups that Rob has encountered in his life, making a point not to include Laura, his recently ex-girlfriend, because “those places are reserved for the kind of humiliations and heart breaks that [she is] just not capable of delivering” (13) . Rob spends the opening of the book talking about his top five break-ups, but after that he only references them again when he was trying to figure out what went wrong in each of his relationships prior to Laura. This is different in the film.
The film tries to place more importance on his previous break-ups and relationships than is absolutely necessary. The novel talks briefly about the break-ups in the prologue, but the film draws out Rob’s explanation of the failed relationships trying to give the perception that they are incorporated into Rob’s everyday life. In the film, Rob narrates about his failed relationships while going through his daily routine. He narrates to the audience of each of his top five worst break-ups in times throughout the day where a normal person would carryout their daily routines.
Doing this in the film gives the audience the impression that the ex-girlfriends are going to pose as important characters throughout the main character’s journey, which is not in true accordance with the novel. Along with the remembrance of Rob’s top five worst break-ups, the films also imposes emphasis upon Marie LaSalle, an exotic and mysterious artist that Rob has a one night stand with. The novel speaks of Marie in passing, only recognizing her as an artist that Rob had a one night stand with who was the deciding factor in Rob’s wanting to be Laura because he loved her.
On the contrary, the representation of Marie LaSalle in the film is that of a potential fling of Rob’s that almost created a love triangle between Rob, Marie, and Laura, a different plot line than what was intended by the novel. Nick Hornby went into great detail about how the characters looked, specifically referencing Rob’s relationships. When comparing the descriptions Hornby gives of each woman that Rob was in a relationship with in the novel to the actresses that were cast to play those roles in the film, there are no similarities other than the lines they spoke.
In the novel, Rob describes Laura to have “her hair cut, same as usual, very short, sixties short, like Mia Farrow, except – and [he’s] not just being creepy – she’s better suited to this sort of cut that Mia. It’s because her hair is so dark, nearly black, that when it’s short her eyes seem to take up most of her face” (121). In the film, however, the actress cast to play Laura, Iben Hjejle, is a blonde with shoulder length hair that does not have big eyes, rather, she has a very strong jaw bone and small eyes.
Although the novel was only written a short five years previous to the making of the film, changing the look of Laura in the film may have been done to better suit the style of the early 2000s rather than that of the mid 1990s and to also make a better distinction of the different settings in the novel and film. The looks of London in 1995 were much different than those of Chicago in 2000. The novel wanted to better capture Laura’s style of the 1995 skinhead movement of the European fads, as described in the novel, whereas the film was trying to portray Laura as being more of a punk in modern society trying to break into the working class.
Laura was not the only woman in Rob’s life that was not translated correctly from the novel to the film; the description of Maria LaSalle was also lost in translation when trying to create her to be an on screen character. In the novel, Rob describes that “Marie is pretty, in the that nearly cross-eyed American way – she looks like a slightly plumper, post Partridge Family, pre-L. A. law Susan Dey – and if you were going to develop a spontaneous and pointless crush on somebody, you could do a lot worse” (77).
Describing Marie as being similar to an actress from the American television show the Partridge Family gives the impression that she is an all-American woman, given that the audience has an already perceived knowledge for American television shows. Rob is interested in Marie not only for the fact that she is a musician, but also that she is an exotic figure in the eyes of a British man. American women in Europe are just as exotic and mysterious as a non-American woman coming to the United States; men are infatuated with the unfamiliar, thus drawing Rob to Marie.
The novel intertextualizes Marie to have looks similar to Susan Dey, who is a white female with a sort of free-spirited style closely related to that of a hippie, leading the audience to believe that Marie LaSalle was an average American, white woman with an Indie style. In the film, however, Lisa Bonet is cast to play Marie LaSalle; she has mixed skin and the style that is closely relatable to Alanis Morissette, who also has a free-spirited style but in a darker manner than Susan Dey. Because the film was not set in Britain, there was a need to find an actress who had exotic looks from the perception of the average American.
The film was successful in portraying Marie as an exotic and mysterious character to the American culture thanks in large part to the acting of Lisa Bonet, but the film was not fully able to portray Marie LaSalle as being as unfamiliar to the American culture unlike the portrayal of her in the novel. What made the novel relatable to the audience was the intertextuality that was used to help portray Rob’s ideas so that the audience better understood what he was thinking and relating his situations to. Being that a film is not able to have a continual background of narration, it used music to help portray Rob’s ideas.
Using background music as a character in the film helped to better translate the ideas and inner dialogue of Rob that cannot fully be portrayed in the film. In both the novel and the film, he was such a big believer as music being an essential part to a person’s life so this also bettered the adaption of Rob’s character from the printed version to the film. The intertextuality in the novel that was not easily noticeable in the cinematic version was Hornby’s instances of relating Rob’s life to major films easily identifiable to the audience, for instance, when Rob relates his life to the movie When Harry Met Sally.
At one point in the novel, Rob is questioning happiness and says that: “surely people who are happy should look happy, at all times, no matter how much money they have or how uncomfortable their shoes are or how little their child is sleeping; and people who are doing OK but have still not found their soul mate should look, I don’t know, well but anxious, like Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally” (257). In the film, music becomes an aid to better understand the tone and storyline of the scene. I Want Candy” is playing in the background when the film is flashing back to show Rob’s first relationship with Alison Ashworth. This is done to try to express the immaturity that Rob is stuck in at that moment. Since the film cannot have a continuous narrator and the novel does not have a soundtrack, each uses what the other cannot in order to enhance the intended tone and original ideas portrayed in the novel. In conclusion, the fact that the film changed the setting was a major contributing factor of the differences and misconnections of the novel to film.
Because the setting was not in England, there was a need to make a transition from British pop-culture and British perceptions to American pop-culture and perception so that the film could be more relatable to its American audience. The use of techniques that can only be used in certain artistic mediums, such as soundtracks and intertextuality, helped to better translate the novel to a film. In all, the film was able to present the ideas and plot in a restricted way but still in an entirety that Nick Hornby was able to do with more detail in his novel.