When his girlfriend (Iben Hjejle) dumps him, pretentious record store (mostly vinyl) owner John Cusack is in uber-neurotic mode, perhaps a few years shy of being called a mid-life crisis. Obsessed with Top 5 lists, he decides to track down the women in his top five most significant romantic breakups to try and help him understand what is wrong with him. Meanwhile, he still seems to be hoping for a reunion with Hjejle, but finds himself attracted to a local musician (Lisa Bonet). Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lili Taylor play two of Cusack’s ex’s, Joan Cusack plays Hjejle’s best friend, Jack Black plays one of Cusack’s elitist employees, and Tim Robbins plays Hjejle’s tantric douchebag new lover. Bruce Springsteen briefly appears as himself…sort of.
Popular with a lot of people, this 2000 adaptation of the Nick Hornby (“About a Boy”, screenwriter of “An Education”) novel from director Stephen Frears (“The Queen”, “Philomena”) held limited appeal for me. There’s only so much I can take when our main character is irritating and not often likeable. I’m not even sure the guy deserves a happy ending with his favourite girl, when you consider everything we come to know about him. He’s a jerk. It helps somewhat that John Cusack is genuinely good in the role and a very likeable actor, but not quite enough to make the character itself likeable.
Also pulling things back a peg is that neither Iben Hjejle (who?) nor Lisa Bonet are interesting or charismatic love interests for Cusack. Hjejle is a bore and everything about Lisa Bonet’s wannabe Ricki-Lee Jones feels forced and pretentious. I’m surprised she wasn’t wearing a freaking beret and smoking a cigarette. She also does a hideous version of ‘Baby I Love Your Way’, too. Catherine Zeta-Jones, meanwhile, looks positively ravishing, but isn’t very effective. I didn’t buy her for a second, she’s too phony and mannered, and the character is so self-obsessed one can’t imagine a relationship beginning with her let alone ending. I get that she was meant to be too good for him, I just think Zeta-Jones overplays it into a caricature that isn’t funny. Much better are Lili Taylor, and especially Joan Cusack, whose every scene with her real-life brother is spot-on. Jack Black, meanwhile gets his big break, and runs off with the film in an energetic and pretty perfect performance that would’ve started to grate had he been given more screen time. I’m not a Tenacious D fan in the slightest (and his character loses serious music snob cred at one point for apparently enjoying Katrina and the Waves!), but Black brings the house down with his version of THAT Marvin Gaye song. I had no idea the guy had it in him to do that. Wow.
There are some little moments here and there that I enjoyed, especially a very funny phone conversation between Cusack and his mother, who is more concerned about his ex than her own son. There’s also a random but genuinely funny cameo by The Boss too, which comes out of nowhere. Less amusing is the completely unconvincing and unfunny Tim Robbins, his character just doesn’t work at all.
I can see why many people responded to this film (how is this not a Cameron Crowe film? It feels like an extension of “Say Anything…” at times, with Cusack and Taylor in the cast), and both John Cusack and Jack Black are ideal, but I’m sorry, this one’s not my cup of tea. I tired of the central character pretty quickly. Perhaps you’ll respond more favourably, especially if you’re a fan of John Cusack. Hornby’s novel was adapted by the eclectic Scott Rosenberg (“Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead”, “Beautiful Girls”, “Con Air”), as well as D.V. DeVincentis (“Grosse Pointe Blank”, “Lay the Favourite”), Steve Pink (“Grosse Pointe Blank”), and Cusack himself.