High Fidelity Review

Hulu's High Fidelity revamps an old tale--but is it a worthy retelling?

Hulu's High Fidelity revamps an old tale--but is it a worthy retelling?

Amara Uvalle-Ordonez, Staff Writer

*Minor Spoilers for High Fidelity, both the 2000 film and the recent Hulu reboot.*

Many things can be said about Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel High Fidelity and its 2000 movie adaptation starring John Cusak. High Fidelity doesn’t make it clear how to feel about its protagonist Rob Gordon. He’s certainly no hero and is at times less than sympathetic. However, many fans have seemed to connect with Rob’s candid truths about masculinity. High Fidelity is Rob’s quest to figure out why he’s doomed to be rejected by confronting the girls that have broken his heart in the past. He demands answers from these women often at their expense. In one instance, he meets up with his high school girlfriend and asks her why she never had sex with him but did with her next boyfriend. She says, “I was crazy about you. I wanted to sleep with you one day, but not when I was sixteen.  When you broke up with me — when you broke up with me — because I was, to use your charming expression, tight, I cried and cried and I hated you. And then that little s***bag asked me out, and I was too tired to fight him off, and it wasn’t rape because I said okay, but it wasn’t far off.  And I didn’t have sex with anyone else until after college because I hated it so much.  And now you want to have a chat about rejection? Well, f*** you, Rob.” 

Rob is a stunted, self-pitying man who obsesses over his record collection and claims that “what really matters is what you like, not what you are like.” I usually would enjoy these sorts of unfiltered portraits of characters who often represent a wider generation. However, Rob doesn’t mature. Yet, at the end of the film, he gets the girl. It’s bleak. I suppose if there’s anything to admire about High Fidelity it is its candor. 

Twenty years later, Hulu released a reboot of High Fidelity, this time a TV series starring Zoe Kravitz as Robin, Rob for short. Kravitz’s casting as Rob is an interesting decision, as her mother, Lisa Bonet, was in the film. So it’s a sweet nod to the film that the bar Rob and her friends hang out at is named after her mother’s character, Marie de Salle. I must admit it’s unclear to me why they decided to reboot this film since it doesn’t have the cultural relevance it did in the 90s. This new High Fidelity doesn’t have the same ugly honesty as the novel or film. What it does have is a more likable, redeemable Rob. I didn’t particularly enjoy Kravtiz’s performance as Rob (I guess she didn’t sell the characters grumpiness as well as Cusak); however, I did love Barry and Dick’s updated characters as Cherise and Simon. They are Rob’s coworkers and closest friends, and they definitely have more importance in the show than they do in the film. If you’re going to watch this show for any reason, watch it for Cherise and Simon. Simon’s stand-alone episode is particularly wonderful. 

Another feature of the show that I genuinely enjoyed was the soundtrack. With the soundtrack supervised by Questlove it was nearly impossible for it to go wrong. It keeps songs by Stiff Little Fingers from the film and adds songs from underrated punk bands Death and Bad Brains. It has a level of familiarity that lets the listener sing along to tracks by Blondie and Prince but has an array of hidden gems that leaves the listener happily surprised. Even if you don’t watch the show I would highly recommend giving the High Fidelity soundtrack a listen.   

The show doesn’t seem to fully commit to the updates they’ve given these characters. Rob and Cherise are both women of color and Rob and Simon are both queer. So it seems like a cop-out not to fully explore how having these identities would affect the way they are seen in the music industry. Are we really supposed to believe that Rob and Cherise don’t have customers come in and mansplain to them about The Stones on at least a semi-regular basis? Kravitz’s Rob is forced to fit into a man’s story.

The show does have one episode called “Uptown” that explores the treatment Rob frustratingly receives as a woman in the record-collecting business. Essentially Rob has to speak to a man who ignores and doubts her knowledge of music.  So Rob and her sort of boyfriend Clyde start up a conversation with him and he talks exclusively at Clyde about his music and celebrities he’s run into. However, he’s stopped in his tracks when Rob challenges him on the release year of Wings’ live album Wings Across America; she knows it’s 1976. “No, sweetpea, you’re wrong,” he says, sticking with his 1984 answer. Rob continues, critiquing the LP’s backing vocal overdubs and praising its version of “Maybe I’m Amazed.” In response, he turns to Clyde and says, “You’ve got yourself quite a little firecracker there, don’t you pal? Word of advice: It’s all cute now but it gets old fast, trust me.”

I still think that making this show and attaching it to High Fidelity was unnecessary and even restricting at times. I found myself liking the show the more it diverged from its source material, because for the first time, I want the best for Rob. I wanted her to get the guy at the end, but for the first time, she didn’t. She’s closer to discovering that what really matters is what you are like, not what you like.