Let’s get one thing out of the way: the O.G. High Fidelity still rocks. I loved the movie as a teen in the early aughts. John Cusack’s tortured angst reflected my restlessness and my notions about love back then (which were entirely shaped by rom-coms). And like legions of other music nerds, I latched onto Rob’s famous line: “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like.”
It’s a dubious sentiment, sure. But nowadays, everyone’s identities are wrapped up in the stuff they “like.” Before the dawn of Instagram and dating apps, crafting a public persona around your cultural preferences was a pretty novel idea. Two decades later, High Fidelity still sparks something for me, but rewatching it (or reading Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel) today reveals it’s evidently dated. The cis-white-mansplaining alone doesn’t fly in the #MeToo era.
So when the new High Fidelity series starring Zoe Kravitz as Rob was announced, I was super into it. In theory, as long as the show is good — and I enjoyed the first season! It’s really solid — rebooting a cult classic and polishing up its dustier concepts is a dynamic prospect. Keep the bones of the story, but reframe its sexual politics to be less cringey.
Most critics have reviewed the series warmly, but some have argued the world didn’t need a High Fidelity reboot. Pitchfork’s Jillian Mapes wrote that “the ‘female’ twist” on the story was “growth and maturity,” arguing that the labor of giving High Fidelity a politically correct facelift unfairly fell on Kravitz, who deserves better than reheated roles originated by a man.
I can’t argue with that: Zoe Kravitz, perhaps the coolest woman in the world, deserves more than John Cusack’s leftovers. Hell, she deserves more than the brooding yoga babe she plays on Big Little Lies. But I predict (and hope) that bigger and better roles will come Kravitz’s way.
John Cusack, for his part, was lukewarm on the idea of a High Fidelity reboot back in 2018. “The woman part seems good,” he tweeted, adding he thought it’d “suck” if Hornby wasn’t involved, which he’s not.
Hornby, however, said just last week that he’s excited by the new show (probably because he’s selling books and collecting crazy royalties, but still). “I thought it was really cool, especially when I found out who the woman was going to be,” Hornby told The Post at a screening in New York. “I never thought it was about guys particularly. I thought it was about music and relationships.”
There’s at least one thing these men get right: Kravitz as Rob is absolutely, hands-down the best part of the new High Fidelity series. Where Cusack was all snarky insecurity, Kravitz is detached coolness. She’s still a neurotic, nerdy loner; we spend a lot of the series watching her spin vinyl and smoke in her apartment. But her lovelorn angst is more complex than his was. And goodness, she rocks the heck out of Rob’s leather jacket. A fun bit of trivia: Kravitz's mom, Lisa Bonet, played one of Cusack's love interests in the 2000 film, which makes the gender-swapping of the reboot all the sweeter.
There’s a lot else to love about Hulu’s remake. While Jack Black was unforgettable as Barry, one of the record shop employees in the 2000 version, I’m afraid he’s been usurped by Da'Vine Joy Randolph playing Cherise, the woman who’s replaced him as Championship Vinyl’s most boisterous employee. She’s as passionate and loud about her music taste as he ever was, most memorably when she refuses to sell a copy of Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. (The scene echoes the one where Barry chastises a father shopping for “tacky, sentimental crap” like Stevie Wonder for his daughter. “Is she in a coma?” he asks, sarcastically.)
The way the new High Fidelity explores sexism within nerdom is also really validating for music lovers, like myself, who fall outside the narrow cis-white-male bracket of supposed expertise. In the fifth episode, “Uptown,” Rob gets in an argument with a middle-aged vinyl obsessive named Tim, who’s been droning on about rock history but directing his pontificating at Clyde, Rob’s kinda-boyfriend. When Tim says the Paul McCartney and Wings album Wings Over America came out in 1984, Rob interjects and corrects him: it was 1976. The guy won’t give an inch. “You a big McCartney fan?” he asks, condescendingly. (The actor Jeffrey Nordling is brilliantly cast as Tim here. He plays another rich, sleazy know-it-all as Laura Dern’s husband in Big Little Lies.)
Like so many other female culture fanatics, I’ve been in Rob’s situation countless times. The “Tims” of the world are the guys who approach me when I go to concerts alone and are baffled that a woman would see a show by herself. They’re the dad of a kid I used to babysit who tried introducing me to Joni Mitchell. (Sir, I’ve been crying to her albums since I was 13.) They’re the men (they’re always men) who leave stupid criticisms of my articles in the comments of Instagram posts of my dogs. They’re also all the men I’ve ever been on a date with who acted surprised if I ordered whiskey.
Anyhow, that’s one of the many reasons I find it so enjoyable to revisit High Fidelity with Kravitz in the DJ booth, so to speak. It’s so meaningful to see a woman — who’s also a person of color and sexually fluid — inhabit Rob’s skin. She’s portraying the legions of non-cis-white-male music nerds who also grapple with heartbreak and have strong opinions on mixtapes, centering them in a beloved story that, as its author said, is about “music and relationships,” not men.
In short, representation matters. And since the O.G. High Fidelity is more than 20 years old and outdated by today’s standards, this zhuzhed-up version is a classy way of reviving Champion Vinyl for the streaming era.