‘High Fidelity’ Makes Record Collectors Look Great

And that’s a welcome change

Record collectors of the world, we have to talk about the new High Fidelity show. It reflects on all of us and for once, it’s a good thing.

First off, I’m sorry to be that asshole but I never understood the appeal of the movie High Fidelity. Frankly any story about life in a record store sounds horrific to me, but I find High Fidelity especially awful. Sometimes this surprises people who learn I collect records because it’s a movie about records and that means I have to like it, right? Usually these people like the movie but don’t collect the records, and I hope I never talk to them again.

While there’s much to hate about a Hollywood-ified depiction of life in a record store, what really bothers me about High Fidelity is its characters. John Cusack’s Rob is constantly grumpy and whinging, and while Jack Black stars in some of my favorite movies, he fucking drives me nuts as Barry. Is it about the accuracy of his character? Are record store employees that obnoxious?  Not usually. But he’s especially unlikable. It’s people like that who you try to avoid at record stores because their opinions are terrible and they think they’re cooler than they actually are.

The characters in Nick Hornby’s book are even worse. At least Cusack’s and Black’s interpretations of the original novel seems to have a little sunshine in them. In the book, Barry and Rob are trash people. Selfish, negative and boorish. Rob introduces himself with a whining monologue about his romantic past and his tale of leaving a girlfriend because she wouldn’t let him get to second base is callous. These aren’t heroes or even anti-heroes, these are people you hide from.

 

The new version of High Fidelity on Hulu is a whole different story. Literally. While the foundation of the original material is there, with Rob owning a record store and dealing with a break up, this time Rob and Barry are women. It’s a huge improvement.

Let’s start with the new Barry, played by Tony-nominated actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph. Randolph turned the opinionated bully into someone with feelings and empathy. Likeable is the operative word here. She’s still the funniest character–funnier than Black’s version, for sure. Though she still spouts off brash opinions, it’s not a constant blast of assholery. She also has the sweetest B storyline, which follows her pursuing her dream of writing music.

There’s even more improvement in the form of the new Rob. Zoe Kravitz turns down Rob’s grumpiness and plays the role like a normal human being. The biggest difference is that she doesn’t make her problems everyone’s. Best of all, when she talks about music, she doesn’t lecture. In the first episode, she gives a little speech about her love of Fleetwood Mac. While original Rob or the majority of male record collectors would break down point by point why Fleetwood Mac is a good band, peppering their points with random facts like the names of producers the band worked with, Kravitz gives a soliloquy. It’s just her earnestly confessing what she loves about Fleetwood Mac and it’s so convincing I wished I could respond to the character in real life.

Sadly critics challenge Kravitz’s depiction of Rob, saying the actress “is way too cool to properly embody a downtrodden no-hoper.” That’s frustrating. We need to recognize that Kravitz in real life isn’t Rob but a Rob-like figure can look like her. It’s a disappointing generalization to say she’s too hot or too much of a style icon to depict a struggling record store owner.

I know quite a few women who collect records– my wife is one–and after some informal surveying I’ve found that they see Kravitz’s Rob as a progressive development. For once they have a record-collecting woman on screen and she’s not a total douchebag. Admittedly I don’t think I’ve ever met a female version of Cusack’s Rob (thank God) and I’m sure they’re rare, so Kravitz’s depiction is more believable. Still, it’s great to see an audience feel properly represented by a woman of color who listens to the Makers when she’s pissed off. The only thing that’s missing are the one or two nerdy stalkers that would certainly be visiting her every day at the store if she did exist.

The show also reveals how men treat women who collect records, and women in general. The best episode of the season is called “Uptown,” and it has nothing to do with the original material. In the episode, Rob and her potential beau Clyde (Jack Lacy) check out a massive record buy at the house of a wealthy artist named Noreen Parker, played by Parker Posey, who gives a performance that rivals her epic work in Dazed and Confused and Party Girl.

Parker offers to sell Rob a record collection worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for just $20. Realizing that it’s an act of revenge against Parker’s cheating husband, Rob seeks out the actual owner of the collection, Parker’s husband, as played by Jeffrey Nordling. He turns out to be a total piece of shit who focuses his attention on Clyde when talking about music, completely ignoring the passionate music expert sitting across from him.

While watching this exchange, I turned to my wife and told her I’d seen this exact situation at some of the record collector gatherings I’ve been too. She told me that “this happens all the time. It doesn’t have to be about records.”

With one season in the can, I hope the show continues, leaving the previous content (book, movie) behind. It’s much better this way and makes record collectors look like decent people–which we are, by the way. Or at least the women are. So let’s drop the idea that a movie about a record store from 2000 resembles anything like reality and recognize that anybody can be a record collector, even nice people.

Kevin L. Jones

Kevin L. Jones is a freelance writer and audio producer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can see more of his work at kevinljones.com.

2 thoughts on “‘High Fidelity’ Makes Record Collectors Look Great

  • March 5, 2020 at 3:07 pm
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    Funnny, that Parker Posey seen is also a deleted scene from the movie. Bverley D’Angelo played the woman selling records on the cheap because her husband ran off with a mistress.

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  • March 5, 2020 at 3:51 pm
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    Great review, I’ve had a complicated relationship with the movie and novel since I read the latter and got to see the former in a theater. In your early twenties, I think music is so much more important for young white guys like myself than it ever is again in your life, and I responded to the sort of hero-anointing that Rob gets in both the book and novel. But nowadays, it’s easier for me to see that he was an agent of his own misery, and the way that the movie had him be this irresistible guy to women is patently unrealistic (even if you look like John Cusack). These days, I’m far more inclined to say that something I like musically is just something that I like, not something that other people should hear because their lives are somehow barren without it.

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