High Fidelity Review: A Sincere, Delightful, and Essential Reboot

For almost 25 years, author Nick Hornby's High Fidelity has been a popular examination of love, self-worth, and the power of music. The story has found life in multiple adaptations, from a John Cusack-led film to a Broadway musical, but has remained relatively untouched since the mid-2000s. Depending on who you ask, High Fidelity is either too sacred to revisit again or a concept that could definitely translate into a modern-day context. Hulu's High Fidelity TV series, which debuts later this month, supports the latter argument almost effortlessly. The 10-episode first season is a dynamic and diverse adaptation of its source material, while also doubling as a fun and profound stretch of standalone television.

The series follows Robin "Rob" Brooks (Zoe Kravitz), a sardonic young woman who runs a record store in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Rob is left at an emotional crossroads after her ex-boyfriend Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir) moves back to town, which reignites the pain of their breakup in the process. Through a series of events, Rob is led to an epiphany — that she should revisit each of her top five most heartbreaking break-ups to see what went wrong in hopes of getting the clarity and self-worth that will follow.

What unfolds from there is effortlessly funny, cool, and moving, anchored by Kravitz's magnetic performance. Kravitz (whose mom, Lisa Bonet, had a supporting role in the original High Fidelity movie) makes her Rob just as complicated and imperfect as the previous portrayals, but in a way that is especially spellbinding. Framing High Fidelity around a female, non-white protagonist instantly works in the adaptation's favor and allows the general concept to take on a whole new meaning. While Cusack's portrayal in the initial film has become iconic, there's a sense that his rants about relationships grow less charming and more like Mark Zuckerberg at the start of The Social Network as the film gets older. But when Kravitz asks out loud why she's "doomed to be rejected," you can't help but feel for her, while also wanting to find out what the answer is. Kravitz's delivery on these wordy, fourth-wall-breaking monologues is one of the series' highlights and arguably is as close as we're ever going to get to an American version of Fleabag. While it almost feels sacrilegious to compare the two series, there's definitely a common theme — imperfect, but lovable women in the margins of society being active, self-aware protagonists in their own stories.

The series' gender swapping ends up being one of its biggest strengths, especially when it comes to Rob navigating her various romantic relationships. Even when she knows she's making a bad decision, Rob is able to be in control of her sexuality and her agency, and she (and those watching) are able to truly understand why she fell in love with every one of her love interests. Kravitz's Rob is also bisexual, a fact which is normalized and not fetishized so quickly and easily in a way that still feels rare.

One of the biggest constants of High Fidelity is its approach to popular culture, something that has evolved in a fascinating capacity in this modern interpretation. Early on, Rob and another character bond over the sentiment that "the things you like are more important than what you are like," which rings true in a different way in the current climate of fandom and "Stan" culture. Throughout the season, there are takes on everything from the novelty of record stores to the ethics of liking problematic musicians to the journey of consuming a piece of media for the first time. These moments and storylines very rarely feel shoehorned in, and instead come across like a conversation people would actually have today. Of course, this also comes with a hearty helping of pop culture references, which are as clever and quotable as those in the original film. After having to tolerate a misogynist man, Rob remarks that it was like "being a woman in a Michael Bay movie," while another character backs out of a social event by saying that they would "literally rather listen to Creed."

While Kravitz's performance is enough to make High Fidelity a must-see, the supporting cast around her delivers performances that are equally mesmerizing. Rob's coworkers/best friends, Simon (David Holmes) and Cherise (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) quickly become so much more than the "musical moron twins" in the original film. Sure, they bicker about specifics just as much, but they are given moments to shine as heartwarming and fully-formed characters, especially as the season enters its final episodes. Jake Lacy is also a standout as Clyde, a seemingly-boring blind date of Rob's who evolves into something so much more complicated and endearing. And Rainbow Francks is a scene-stealer as Jackson, Rob's brother who is going through his own existential crisis about being an adult.

On a technical level, High Fidelity works on a slew of understated and almost effortless levels. The fashion is stylish but perfectly unpretentious, and often looks genuinely comfortable. The cinematography and editing are also strong, with the latter aspect lending itself to some of the funniest moments across the season. And, of course, it's impossible to ignore the perfectly curated soundtrack, which takes the audience on an effective emotional journey without ever feeling ironic.

Early on in High Fidelity's first season, a character poses the question, "Do men feel the need to justify everything?" before remarking that, "No, they just take up space." In a way, that sentence serves as a thesis statement for the rebooted series, one that is expanded upon in some surprising ways across its first 10 episodes. At its core, High Fidelity has always been a story about self-worth and how you discover that in the context of the company that you keep, and it's genuinely fascinating and necessary to see that explored through the women, people of color, and queer people in today's society. High Fidelity's exploration of that is so moving, cool, and entertaining, it just might cement itself as one of the first must-see shows of the 2020s in the process.


Rating: 5 out of 5

All episodes of High Fidelity will be released on February 14th on Hulu.