Hulu’s ‘High Fidelity’ remains faithful to the movie — with some twists
Gina Twardosz | Monday, March 23, 2020
“The ugly truth of the matter is this,” Rob Brooks, played by Zoe Kravitz, laments at the end of the first episode of Hulu’s “High Fidelity.” “If we suddenly heard that the world was going to end in 24 hours, the people I would call in the first hour would be the obvious: my parents, my brother, Simon, Cherise, I guess — and I would be calling them all to apologize for the fact that I would be choosing to spend the next 23 hours with Mac.”
In a month filled with thoughts of the apocalypse, “High Fidelity” seems to harken back to a simpler time — hey, remember when we were all just worried about finding love?
Hulu’s “High Fidelity” is a reboot of the classic early 2000s romantic comedy of the same name, starring John Cusack as the protagonist, Rob. The movie was based on a book by author Nick Hornby.
For fans of the movie, the show is an epic tribute which still remains interesting and fresh. Most of the quintessential parts of the film are given a new life in the series, with some memorable lines, (“It’s good.” “I know.”), and memorable outfits (that trench coat!) making it a model for the reboot industry. Blondie’s Debbie Harry even makes a cameo, in homage to Bruce Springsteen’s cameo in the original movie. With a plot firmly rooted in the roses and thorns of too much nostalgia, the show manages to maintain a modern edge.
The most modern update is casting Zoe Kravitz, daughter of rock star Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet (who played Marie De Salle in the original movie), as the previously male protagonist, Rob. The show follows Rob as she recalls her top five greatest heartbreaks, including her most recent and most devastating heartbreak from ex-boyfriend Mac.
The casting of the show is also more diverse than the movie and makes attempts at LGTBQ+ representation. The exes featured in Rob’s top five heartbreaks are both men and women.
As well, Rob’s best friend Simon, played by David H. Holmes, is also one of Rob’s top 5 heartbreaks and comes out as gay during their relationship. He receives a whole episode, “Ballad of the Lonesome Loser,” dedicated to his top five heartbreaks. While one episode is dedicated to portraying a non-heterosexual storyline, it cannot be seen as an adequate representation. The episode displays a nuanced look at gay relationships and provides Holmes with a vehicle to really shine as an actor.
Another surprising delight is Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s performance as Cherise. The tony award winning Broadway actress delivers an amazingly real and high-spirited performance as Rob’s frenemy and outspoken employee. In the film, the role was played by Jack Black, and only Randolph could embody Black’s characteristically goofy aggravation of the early 2000s and make it better.
Kravitz, of course, gives an amazing performance as disaffected cool girl Rob. Yet, I could not help but wonder if they tried too hard to write her like the movie’s Rob. Maybe it’s just the bad timing, but I’m growing tired of characters who are cynically meandering through life without a care for the common good.
Sure, Kravitz’s Rob is more likable than Cusack’s Rob, although I would argue even Hannibal Lecter is more likable than Cusack’s Rob or at least greatly less self-pitying. It’s not that I lament Kravitz’s Rob’s lack of likability; I find it refreshing that a female character can be written in a way that doesn’t beg for an audience’s approval. She’s unapologetically brash and knows what’s good for her and what isn’t, and that’s something to be praised. But as the show progressed, Rob didn’t. She stopped changing and remained static, likely bound to the same character arc as Cusack’s Rob.
With a little nuance, a cynical, unlikable character can be a stark mirror of our reality: humans are social but selfish beings — we hurt each other, and each of us learns to love in a different way. But characters written without nuance, confined to past tropes or tired rom-com writing, just suck.
Rob shows the most benevolence, not to her best friends or love interests, but to a scumbag music lover who’s cheating on his eccentric wife (played impeccably by Parker Posey). In the episode “Uptown”, Rob stumbles upon the rare record collection of the gods, which is being sold by the artist Noreen Parker. Rob asks Parker how much for the collection — reminding the woman that she probably could not afford everything, but Parker claims she’s only selling the albums for $20 as she intends to frame the money to give to her ex-husband, who loves his record collection more than anything else in life.
The painful realization is that everything he says he loves can easily disappear for less than what he spent. A lifetime of collection gone in an instant — because the records, though we love them, are just objects. They can be broken, lost, stolen or sold — but things like love, faith and truth are loftier concepts that can transcend the material world. Yet, Parker’s husband threw all those things away when he cheated on her. So now he gets nothing.
But even though Rob covets the priceless collection, she ultimately denies the offer, claiming she would have to pay more for them in order for it to be fair. This comes after she meets the cheating ex-husband and verifies that he’s a sexist, selfish scumbag. And that’s the clincher — Rob identifies with his selfishness. On the surface, her integrity comes from her love of music and the depth of story, emotion and purpose music gives her — intangible things that can, again, transcend the material world.
But really, Rob’s just scared the same thing could happen to her. As Rob’s “boy-toy” Clyde says, if someone could just sell that man’s music out from under him for being a relatively bad person, who’s to say they wouldn’t come for Rob’s records, too? Because, ultimately, Rob is a selfish person. To quote the original film, she’s “a snob” — possibly elitist — and she worries more about what others will do to her than what she does to others. She wants to be loved unconditionally but doesn’t realize she’s never loved someone unconditionally back.
‘Fidelity’ is faithfulness, and Rob has to learn this through the trials and tribulations of heartbreak and heartache. Any music lover knows a lot of faith goes into devoting yourself to a certain band or singer. Will you stick by them through their inevitable genre changes, loss of band members or solo careers? Will you choose to still love them through their divorces, stints in rehab, or ultimately unforgivable decisions?
In one scene, Rob, Simon and Cherise are at the record store when a woman comes in who wants to buy a Michael Jackson record for her boyfriend’s birthday. At first, the team refuses to sell her the record because of the allegations of child abuse levied against the late pop star. But Rob rethinks the decision, arguing that so much good work went into making Jackson’s music, specifically producer Quincy Jones’s influence on album “Off the Wall.” After arguing with Cherise, who thinks the artist’s indiscretions mean more than his music, Kravitz leaves it up to Cherise and Simon to decide whether or not they should sell the record: they duel it out in a game of rock, paper, scissors.
“High Fidelity” is what happens when you play rock, paper, scissors with the decisions that truly matter. When you leave things up to chance, neglect the ones you love and act without thinking, you are bound to break some hearts — and have your heart broken in the process.
Created by: Sarah Kucserka, Veronica West
Where to watch: Hulu
Favorite episode: “Uptown”
If you like: “You’re the Worst,” “Love,” “Fleabag”