Zoë Kravitz’s character in Hulu’s High Fidelity reboot is a self-admitted “asshole” who smokes and drinks too much, lies a lot, is self-absorbed and cheats on the love of her life. But critics — both professional and of the couch variety on social media — have a problem with her role that has nothing to do with how the character is written, how well the actress plays it or even how this modern take fares next to the beloved 2000 John Cusack/Jack Black film, or the original book by British writer Nick Hornby.
Apparently, people are taking issue with the actresses’ beauty, which many have complained makes the story-line unbelievable. A woman this gorgeous wouldn’t struggle romantically the way Rob — the protagonist here — does, and she sure wouldn’t be so neurotic as to over-think, self-doubt and pine for past loves by painstakingly crafting music playlists as seen here. Really?
This is not a compliment, people. It’s judging an album by its cover without trying to listen to what’s inside. Frankly it’s sexist, and it’s even sort of addressed in the show itself, when a pony-tailed music big-wig about to lose his incredible record collection to Rob (unbeknownst to him) makes the assumption that her date knows more about who played on what recording than she does. Assuming good looking people can’t struggle romantically or be pathetic fanatics, belies what this new version is trying to do, which is transcend the stereotypes of the original.
High Fidelity is the ultimate music nerd narrative. Both the book and the movie spoke to those of us who live our lives with a ceaseless soundtrack running at all times, one which reflects the past, the present and the future, and shapes our outlook on relationships, the world and who we are. So while Robyn Brooks, as played by the offspring of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet (the latter of whom fans might remember was in the original movie) is really nice to look at, it is her words — spoken directly to the viewer- and her music choices that should get our full attention here. The first thing I did after binging the full 10 episodes was search for playlists from the show on Spotify — which are filled with everyone from Prince and Al Green to Zappa and Bowie. A perfect playlist? Now that’s a beautiful thing.
Kravitz’s Rob owns an all-vinyl record store in Brooklyn (Cusack’s was in Chicago). It’s been about a year since she broke up with her fiance Mac (Kingsley Ben Adir) and she’s still not over it. In an effort toward self-reflection, she shares with us, the viewers, her top 5 heart breaks and how they went bad. It’s 2020, so this includes a woman, as well as her now best friend Simon (David H. Holmes), who admitted he was gay while they were dating. He now works for her at the shop along with a sharp, rock-loving sista named Cherise (Da’ Vine Joy Randolph, who truly lights up the screen just as she did in Dolemite is My Name and gives Jack Black a run for his money as the comic relief).
The trio’s debates about pop culture and music, specifically as they pertain to categorizable themes, are the best thing about this version of Fidelity. “Top 5 Songs about Self-Love (aka Masturbation)… Go!” The Divinyls, Cyndi Lauper, Violent Femmes and more get shout-outs, and as the trio argue these kinds of lists throughout the series, we can’t help but play along. The exchanges are as heated as they were in the movie, and have been updated here to reflect the dilemmas of modern fandom. Can any of us go into a music store and buy a Michael Jackson album without feeling shame these days? Well, maybe if we just think about Quincy’s production work? Hmm…
Of course, nobody has to worry about this stuff if they don’t want to anymore thanks to Amazon and Ebay, which makes the motivational subtext in this reboot markedly unique. The vinyl collecting and playlist-making (now done via streaming service on Rob’s phone versus old school mixtapes of yore) and even one-upmanship (upwomanship!) in terms of arguing about music, are easily avoided and resolved thanks to smartphones, Google, Shazam and Discogs.com. Cusack and Black didn’t have these kinds of resources, dude!
And of course, vinyl record shops are not really the destinations for musical discovery they used to be. They are places where nostalgia junkies and passionate weirdos converge to surround themselves with what they care about most. High Fidelity is about relationships and how we learn and grow from each, and don’t get me wrong, its star is truly beguiling, but when it comes to the Top 5 reasons you should watch it, celebrating the love of music is definitely #1 on the list.