Zoë Kravitz's well-produced, gender-flipped reboot of High Fidelity plays out far better than the usual remake.
The 10-episode Hulu series, which began streaming today, takes its framework and other elements from the 1995 Nick Hornby novel and the 2000 movie starring John Cusack and builds something surprisingly relevant and new.
In the new take on High Fidelity, Rob is still an intelligent but rudderless music-loving thirty-something record store owner navigating a string of bad relationships with the help of amazing soundtracks. Only now, she's a bisexual black woman in Brooklyn, rather than a straight white male in Chicago.
However, that doesn't entirely explain why the Hulu version of High Fidelity feels so different from its other iterations.
Maybe it's Kravitz. She plays Rob with warmth and brains, tempered with awkwardness in emotional situations. It makes for a far more likable lead character than Cusack's "sad bastard," whose rage occasionally boiled over.
And because she's more likable, the people around her are also more likable. Her record store employees, Simon (David H. Holmes) and Cherise (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), are far more nurturing than the ones in the film, which included a scenery-chewing Jack Black in his breakout movie role. Unlike previous versions, Rob now also has a seemingly normal, supportive family and her ex-boyfriends don't generally seem that horrible – though her ex-girlfriend, Kat (perhaps a nod to Catherine Zeta-Jones, who played the analogous role in the film) does seem pretty awful as an Instagram influencer.
Maybe the improvement is in the writing. In the new version, the clever banter from the movie and the book have deeper ramifications. For example, to start the second episode, Rob and her employees debate whether or not to sell Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall" album to a customer.
"How does it benefit society to hold Quincy's genius hostage because the dude who sang over his sh*t ended up being a full-blown child molester?" Rob says, swayed by her love of producer Quincy Jones' horn charts on the album.
"Where'd you get that from, Rob?" Cherise asks. "'Convenient Opinions R Us'?"
"You still listen to a dude who raps in a MAGA hat, so..." replies Rob.
"Having sh*tty politics and a second-grade understanding of American history is a tiny bit different than being a goddamn child molester," replies Cherise.
They keep going, touching on Charles Manson, mental health issues, and the idea that few artists are unquestionably good people, then quickly changing the subject.
Thanks to the luxury of being a series rather than a film, High Fidelity can spend some time on these interesting characters and their interesting lives and ideas. In fact, though Rob counts down his "All-Time Top Five Most Memorable Heartbreaks" in this version like all the others, the series improves the further it deviates from that original framework.
Kravitz has clearly lived with this material for a long time. (Her mom, Lisa Bonet, played the small, but memorable role of musician Marie DeSalle in the movie, and Kravitz names the club the characters hang out in DeSalle's as a homage.) She also knows its shortcomings. Though Hornby's novel was influential in popularizing the idea of boiling pop culture down into lists, 25 years later the Internet is overflowing with Top 5 lists, and every listicle imaginable has already been written. Luckily, though that construct seems a bit dated, Rob's issues with her love life—and her worries about not having one—feel timeless. And once again, the crisp writing serves her well.
"Next week, on 'The Sad Lady Show,' we're going to team up," Rob says one bummed-out night, watching her neighbor across the street also smoke a cigarette alone. "Fight the loneliness together with cats and cigarettes and reruns of 'Murder She Wrote.'"
But in this "High Fidelity," those moods never last long. Rob believes in the transformative power of playlists, and her life is always one great song away from turning around for good.