By Sammie Purcell
BU News Service
“What really matters is what you like. Not what you are like.”
This little piece of relationship advice is well-known to fans of the 2000 film “High Fidelity,” starring John Cusack as record-store owner Rob Gordon. In Gordon’s world, taste in popular culture is the most important way to define yourself, especially in a relationship.
“Books, records, films – these things matter,” he continues. “Call me shallow. It’s the [expletive] truth.”
Hulu’s new TV show version of “High Fidelity” has the same superficial take on love and relationships. But this gender-bent remake, starring Zoë Kravitz in the Cusack role (now named Rob Brooks), offers up a modern take on the beloved film and delves deeper into the themes of maturity, growing up and change.
In the movie and show, both adapted from the Nick Hornby novel, Gordon/Brooks (Cusack/Kravitz), in the wake of a particularly bad break-up, embarks on a mission to speak with his/her “Top Five Most Memorable Heartbreaks.” He/she seeks each one out to find out what went wrong in those relationships.
Despite the gender difference, Kravitz plays Brooks much in the same way Cusack played Gordon – as a narcissistic, lovable jerk. She doesn’t let the gender of the character get in the way of the character’s messiness and flaws. She is selfish, she is superficial and she refuses to change.
The differences between Gordon in the movie and Brooks in the show don’t come directly from the gender swap, but from the liberties taken with the story that more aptly show a wreck of a person choosing to leave their past behind and grow up – something, despite its best efforts, the movie ultimately fails to do.
When we meet Gordon in the movie, he’s just been dumped by Laura (Iben Hjejle) – number five on the heartbreak list. After his trek through the ghosts of relationships past, he ultimately admits to his immaturity and embraces he and Laura’s differences, believing she’ll help him grow. Laura ultimately accepts Gordon, but for less romantic reasons. She doesn’t want to be with him because she’s recognized some grand change in him, but because, in her own words, “she’s too tired not to be.”
This line strikes a depressing chord. In a movie about growing up and moving on, Laura’s decided she’s too exhausted to strive for better than Gordon. She spends so much of the movie rejecting him and dealing with truly troubling behavior – he harasses her and her new boyfriend for a good part of the film – and in the end, she becomes a mechanism for Gordon’s growth rather than working on her own or making some attempt to grow together.
The TV show changes this dynamic for the better. We begin with the same scene between Brooks and Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Laura’s male counterpart, but the action really starts about a year later. Mac is engaged to somebody else, and Brooks is on a date with a man named Clyde (Jake Lacy).
Clyde is indisputably a good man, dorky, handsome and patient, but he violates Brooks’s cardinal relationship rule: “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like.” And Brooks has nothing in common with Clyde.
“He listens to Phish,” she mocks.
As Brooks spends more time with Clyde, her growing feelings for him confuse her superficial tendencies. Instead, she focuses on the past, obsessing over her exes and pining over Mac.
When the show’s plot devolves from the movie’s, Brooks begins to achieve the growth and change the movie strove for. Her romantic endeavors blow up in her face: Mac decides to stay with his fiancée, and Clyde can’t handle the chaos she brings to his life. However, as the credits roll, Brooks makes an active decision to move on from the past and move past the superficial. She likes Clyde – not for what he likes, but for what he is like.
“High Fidelity” the movie tries to show the audience that a relationship can be the catalyst for which a person can mature. It’s not so much about getting the girl, but how a relationship can change a person. But when one half of that relationship is complacent, can real change occur?
Clyde is not complacent. When he rejects Brooks at the end, he doesn’t give in to any of her pleading or pressing. He’s not “too tired not to be.” His resilience kickstarts her personal journey. The question the audience is left with isn’t will Clyde take her back, but rather will she become a better person as a result of the pursuit of love?
The movie ends tied up in a nice, romantic-comedy bow, so the audience doesn’t see if Gordon keeps his promise. The show, however, is open-ended, challenging the heroine to be better. Whether or not we get a Season 2 where Clyde and Brooks end up together, this ending hits home as a sign of real change rather than settling for something less.
“High Fidelity” premiered on Hulu Feb. 14.