I cringed when I heard that High Fidelity would be the latest old Hollywood IP to be rebooted, as I am a self-identified High Fidelity stan. The 2000 movie starring John Cusack has always been my heartbreak comedy-drama North Star, and like any protective fan, I didn’t want it sullied by a carbon-copy pretender. I’m delighted to admit that I was wrong — the gender-flipped reboot starring Zoë Kravitz in Cusack’s role has been translated into a cool, refreshing take on modern love.
However, there’s one big issue: High Fidelity (2020) is too loyal to High Fidelity (2000). It was expected that the Hulu show would borrow largely from the film, and it does, although to use the word borrow would be a vast understatement. Kravitz’s character is named Rob (short for Robyn, which is cute. On the nose, but cute.). Rob runs a record store called Championship Vinyl. She has two employees and a crippling introspection regarding her love life. Those things felt like a given, but one choice the series makes goes too far and crosses over from homage to overkill. The film’s dialogue, verbatim, is used throughout the series. The actors even tend to deliver most of these lines in the exact same fashion as in the film.
In the pilot, I smiled when I recognized some of the movie’s familiar lines, particularly in the opening scene where Rob is saying goodbye to her lover, Mac, who she realizes is The One, which is, of course, exactly how the film opens. But then as the episode went on, I recognized more and more lines. In subsequent episodes — all 10 — the movie’s lines continue to be woven in until it feels like pretty much every single word of dialogue from the film is spoken.
It’s not just the lines; the plot of the first season loosely follows that of the film, down to the fact that one of the show’s most dynamic characters, Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), is a woman version of Jack Black’s character Barry. Cherise is an electric, whole enough character that she doesn’t need to be a Black, woman (almost exact) version of Barry. It doesn’t help that Kravitz’s Rob is so much like Cusack’s Rob at some turns (Kravitz’s line delivery frequently uses the same cadence as Cusack, reducing her to what feels like an imitation of him). It’s not necessary. Kravitz’s Rob is an incredible character. Neither Rob nor Cherise deserves to be a version of someone else.
What makes this worth pointing out is that the show thrives in its differences from the film. Kravitz’s presence always seemed interesting because she’s the real-life daughter of one of the film’s stars — mom Lisa Bonet played Marie De Salle, one of Cusack’s love interests — but the show tackles the larger implication around Kravitz’s Rob being a young woman of color. The realm of the record store is traditionally the domain of men, and the music industry is where the white men opinion has been prized for decades. The film, of course, reinforces this. But here, in today’s Championship Vinyl, there are two young Black women and one white gay man discussing music, waxing about pop culture, and forming Top 5 lists. Not only does it feel fresh, it becomes more culturally relevant in a scene where an older, white man invalidates Rob’s music cred by ignoring her opinion while speaking only to her companion, who is a man. It’s a painfully familiar scene to any woman, and especially women of color, who asserts her opinion in a traditionally men-dominated space.
And like Cusack’s Rob, who fulfills his fantasy in the film by sleeping with a beautiful musician (Bonet), Robin also sleeps with a beautiful musician (Thomas Doherty), but her fantasy unappealingly morphs into that of a 30-year-old woman groupie. This High Fidelity is self-aware and refreshing until the movie’s lines surface to make you feel like you’ve seen this all before. It feels lazy.
So worn out are the movie’s lines that it seems like there won’t be any left for season two, if the show gets picked up for another (and it should). Even as someone who loves the movie desperately, I’d be happy if the series left the film behind, only using beats of it as an homage, the way a song playing in the background can remind you of a beloved scene — but not hit you over the head with it.
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