The following contains minor spoilers for Hulu’s High Fidelity.
Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity hits best mid-tragedy. Hulu’s High Fidelity is good whenever.
Made for chip-bowl-on-your-chest, mascara-running-down-your-face wallowing, Frears’ 2000 classic is an excellent breakup movie. John Cusack’s emphatic anger lets you churn raw emotion from the comfort of your couch, while his character’s hopeful resolution gives you the strength to go on living. It’s second only to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on this writer’s personal, all-time top five. Plus, that soundtrack.
Hulu’s High Fidelity is more fun, more forgiving. Not necessarily better, but kinder.
But Hulu’s High Fidelity is more fun, more forgiving. Not necessarily better, but kinder, and more suited to the weeks after a breakup when you’ve picked up a new hobby, changed your hairstyle, and started to move on.
Broken into 10 well-paced episodes, this take on love and loss at Championship Vinyl centers on Zoë Kravitz’s Robyn, “Rob” for short.
Yes, it’s a gender-swapped remake, but it’s also an updated look at the way we relate to intimacy in 2020. It’s a series that gets better when you’re reminded less of where it came from, and more of where it (and we) could be going.
The pop-punk grayscale of the original is replaced with a prismatic palette, coloring a diverse world of perspectives befitting a modern narrative. Episode 1 opens with Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir), this generation’s Laura, moving out of Rob’s apartment. Rob is as much of a mess as ever, but Kravitz’s take on the everyman is undoubtedly cooler that Cusack’s.
Where his straight-to-camera monologuing plays like desperate persuasion, hers comes across as statements of fact. In the first scene, her declaration that Mac has joined her top five heartbreaks “with a bullet” is as tragic as it is intimidating. She is in control despite the rejection, a revolutionary move in romantic comedies even now.
Rob still owns a record store, this one in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It’s staffed by her best friends Simon (David H. Holmes), a gay man, and Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a black woman — stand-ins for the “musical moron twins” played by Todd Louiso and Jack Black in the original.
The updated universe vibrates with the boldness of that choice.
We learn more about Simon and Cherise’s inner lives than we ever learned about their previous incarnations, with Simon even breaking the fourth wall for an episode centered on his romantic past. As he points out, it’s not like Rob has a monopoly on heartbreak. It was my favorite installment of the series.
The trio’s varied viewpoints provide a rich look at modern coolness and connection. Other characters, like Rob’s brother (Rainbow Francks), Rob’s ex-girlfriend (Ivanna Sakhno), and Rob’s newest love interest (Jake Lacy), further expand on the changing dynamics of finding the elusive One. Frears’ High Fidelity hammered home the idea that Laura was Rob’s salvation. This time around, that’s not the thrust of our hero’s journey.
In this adaptation, there’s more going on in the world than one white guy’s breakup.
Flippant jokes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (as it stood in 2000) are replaced with asides about universal healthcare, Michael Jackson’s legacy, and Kanye West’s political affiliations. Pacing by the phone is swapped for Instagram snooping and discussions of online identity. Cusack’s deserving male ego turns into Kravitz’s feminist indignation, and the updated universe vibrates with the boldness of that choice.
Rather than fitting the role of seductive set-dressing foisted on Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Iben Hjejle in the original, Kravitz is her own flawed force — with traits that make hating and loving her a complex, but rewarding experience.
Iconic lines and moments have been faithfully recreated and easter eggs abound (look out for Kevin McAllister), but the tone of this story is mostly new. The main things remaining are its reverence for heartbreak, love of great music, and interest in exploring flawed people.
For Frears loyalists, Hulu’s High Fidelity will likely fail to heal all the same wounds. But for those interested in getting to know a new and interesting character, it checks all the boxes. Turn up the volume heading into Season 2, because this Rob could be going anywhere — with or without her love stories on playback.
High Fidelity Season 1 is now streaming on Hulu.