High Fidelity is a much loved novel by Nick Hornby, it’s also a hugely popular 2000 film adaptation starring John Cusack, a short-lived 2006 Broadway musical, and now in 2020, a Hulu series starring Zoë Kravitz. With such a strong cult following, one might ask if we really need another interpretation of Hornby’s work. Need? Maybe not. But adapting Hornby’s work into the longer format of a series where the gender of its main character is flipped certainly creates room for a pretty interesting look at its subject matter.
In this latest version, Zoë Kravitz plays the main character, Rob: a record store owner with a penchant for making “Top 5” lists who is nursing a broken heart. I admit, it felt strange initially to hear some of the same lines of Hornby’s dialogue coming out of Kravitz’s mouth verbatim when I was so used to hearing Cusack. But after the initial storyline was set up, I found the new actors portraying Hornby’s characters really enjoyable.
Zoë Kravitz is the standout performer as Rob (but more on her in a bit). Her record store cohorts are Simon (David H. Holmes) and Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). While Cherise initially seems to be just a surrogate for Jack Black’s Barry from the 2000 film, Randolph does more to humanize Cherise and shows a wider range of emotions for the character than the sometimes cartoonish Black. Cherise is still loud and boisterous, funny and judgmental, but she is also sympathetic and protective. When her feelings are hurt we believe it and actually care.
David H. Holmes’ character, Simon, might be my favorite of the new series. Positioning Simon as one of Rob’s past heartbreaks who turned out to be gay makes for a more interesting character arc. Simon loves music and is apprehensive about asking out his crush at the local coffee shop, but he also remains a dedicated friend to Rob and Cherise throughout the series. Simon tempers some of their drama by being a voice of reason, but he is never a stick in the mud. He proves quickly to Rob that despite their change in relationship status, he has always been there for her.
Simon’s own past heartbreaks are recounted in a stand alone episode that was one of my favorites of the season. I would have liked to have seen the same treatment for Cherise with more backstory as she works on her music (maybe in season two?). Introducing more female characters (and more female characters of color at that) into Hornby’s popular but straight white male narrative is indeed refreshing. I really enjoyed the perspectives of Rob and Cherise on music and pop culture, and how they subverted the expectations of what kinds of music men and women (and different races) enjoy.
I was surprised by how much I liked the character of Rob’s brother, Cameron (played by Rainbow Francks). Cameron and his wife, Nikki, are about to have their first baby and he is terrified that his “life is over.” While this seems irresponsible and a bit dramatic, it is a story that is all too familiar in this day and age. Mourning the loss of youth and “freedom” before the birth of a child is a common thread in the lives of many new parents. I love all interactions between John and Joan Cusack in the 2000 film version, but the film did not heavily utilize her as a character. I really enjoyed having Rob’s brother in the Hulu series. He was able to call her out on her behavior while also providing his own shenanigans.
But let’s get back to the main character of the story: Rob. Zoë Kravitz really is the reason to watch this latest iteration of High Fidelity. Her portrayal of Rob as a biracial queer woman afraid of commitment with “one foot out the door” is refreshing because it is true. All too often men are often described in fiction as afraid of commitment and bad at communication, but Rob shows us that a woman is just as capable of screwing things up, just as they are about to get even harder.
When reading Hornby’s novel, I always identified more so with Rob than with any of Hornby’s female characters, and I really enjoyed watching Kravitz’s portrayal. It lets us witness Rob, both mourning the loss of a love that was her own fault, and trying to bury that pain at the same time. When I think back to John Cusack’s Rob now, I am often put off by his whininess and sense of entitlement, the fact that he seemed so jealous and angry. Even though she is still flawed, this new version of Rob (while still struggling with depression and obsessive behavior) takes steps toward breaking that cycle by the end of the first season.
The most interesting parts of this new iteration of High Fidelity for me are when it strays from the familiar narrative. Rob’s interactions with musician Liam (hot Scot Thomas Doherty) and “nice guy” Clyde (Jake Lacey) both provide opportunities for Rob to attempt to get over her ex Mac (Kingley Ben-Adir) and show her failing. With each attempt, Rob’s character starts to learn more about what she really wants out of a relationship, as well as how much she has taken for granted. Hulu’s High Fidelity takes its biggest turn from the source material when we find Rob pleading with Clyde, not Mac, at the end of the season to give her another chance. Rob has learned (at least we think she is starting to learn) that she is deserving of love and needs to stop running from it. And she takes steps towards admitting her faults, in hopes of starting fresh with Clyde towards friendship. This isn’t Notting Hill; they don’t instantly get together once she shows up at his door and professes her feelings. Clyde tells Rob that they have a 9% chance of working things out and she takes it. We end season one with Rob still single but she has made some progress, and I for one am interested in seeing what she does to show Clyde (and us) in the future that she really does deserve love and happiness.
Besides watching movies, Diana likes the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out.
She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school drop out. IG: @dldimuro