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The expression „hi-fi“ is commonly known to be used in terms of sound engineering. It is the abbreviated form of „High Fidelity“, which basically means that the oscilliations of sound are maximized to the fullest extent. Its opposite is therefore „lo-fi“, or „low fidelity“, indicating a radical drop in audio quality. Fidelity, however, is also one of the defining pillars of modern relationshops among human beings. In 1995, British author Nick Hornby, who is also a pop music critic for „The New Yorker“, published his very first novel named High Fidelity, in which he dissects these modern relationships with pop music analogies.
It turned out to be a massive commercial success and ranked on top of global bestselling lists for years to come. In the year 2000, British director Stephen Frears turned the novel into a Hollywood comedy starring John Cusack and a relatively unknown Jack Black (of Tenacious D fame) in a supporting role. This was also met with critical acclaim and raving reviews, and in 2020, a sadly short-lived tv show starring Zoë Kravitz as the gender-swapped protagonist was released, which successfully updated the material for the 21st century.
The beauty of Nick Hornby´s creation is that he managed to write a story that is truly timeless. Music will forever be around as long as there are people living on earth, and a good story about human relationships in combination with music will never cease to amaze. The true genius behind his work High Fidelity is that it offers an insightful look into the way we imagine properly working relationships, only to be mostly left disappointed when our own expectations cannot be met.
This very struggle, which seems to be boiling over since time immemorial, is delightfully pitched at the heart of High Fidelity. Only five years later, to further prove its universal applicability, a Hollywood adaptation managed to maintain the original British charme, although American humour is not known for being smart and subtle. High Fidelity the movie gained almost instant cult status and is still among the top lists of music and movie buffs alike.
The original novel is set in London and undeniably British through its witty dialogues and at times pitch-black humour. The story revolves around music geek and record store owner Rob, who is in his midthirties and who has recently split up with his long term girlfriend, Laura. Possessed by music and anything related to popular culture, Rob likes to see the world around him through musical analogies and diverse top-five-lists concernig his personal life.
Each version of the story starts with Rob presenting his very own personal top five relationships that have ended and have kept haunting him throughout his life. Straight from the get-go it is a very nice touch to juxtaposit life´s trials and tribulations with the sobriety of compiling best of lists. Therefore, Rob`s top five breakups get an off-kilter comedic touch, as does the rest of his story of redemption.
Redemption is what he seeks, because High Fidelity boosts a rather flawed protagonist, who can often come across as unlikeable. Thankfully, author Nick Hornby acknowledges this and never crosses the line too much, so that the readers do not lose any kind of sympathy they had for the character. A great deal that helps with this task is the great assembly of supporting characters, especially Rob´s co-workers, who contribute some levity and certainly some likeability.
Rob himself, among with his colleagues, portray an archetype of snarky, music-loving men. These kind of people think their opinions are of the highest value and that mainstream music listeners are to be ridiculed constantly. This is clearly antisocial behaviour, yet the characters are filled with so many quirks that you simply cannot detest them, despite all their pettiness. In general, the three main guys represent archetypes of modern middle-aged men, especially with regards on how they perceive romantic relationships. The story of High Fidelity centers around Rob working through his personal top five romantic failures and thus making sense of his own personality. He hopes to gain clarity from his past mistakes by confronting the five women, who seem to have deeply wounded him.
The exploration of the male ego, which seems to be the most striking aspect about the novel High Fidelity, is a feat that Nick Hornby accomplished tremendously. As a person who identifies as male, the author of this text has seen many facettes of himself in the male characters presented in High Fidelity, most notably when the anxieties and uncertainties of romantic relationships are being addressed. It seems to be the case that in High Fidelity, each and every archetype of the male spectrum concerning relationship issues gets a poignant exploration, but what about the women? Critics of the novel plus its film adaptation from 2000 pointed at the severe lack of agency-driven female characters in both iterations, since the only females in those stories are relegated to side characters. Exactly 20 years later, as the world has witnessed significant changes in the social, political and especially the gender sector, the time was ripe for a new version.
Therefore, a modernized take on the classic story was made via Hulu, featuring a gender-swapped Rob and a much more vibrant, modern soundtrack. The new series High Fidelity even went the extra mile and managed to give the endearing co-workers much more depth and fleshed out background stories. Unfortunately, the new series was cut short after only one season, since there was plenty of opportunity to keep adding to the already established tale. In retrospect, the series managed to give a more female-centric look at romantic love without being belittling towards men. While in both book and film versions Bruce Springsteen was portrayed as the externalized voice of reason to the male protagonist, the series switched it up in that regard as well and got none other than Deborah Harry, the legendary Blondie, to be the positive influence on Rob.
It´s a shame that this promising show did not get picked up for a second season, yet it is totally worth to check the only season it got out. One minor complaint would be the female counterpart to Jack Black´s Barry in the show, since it is basically impossible to rift off the unique charisma of Black. However, the casting of Zoë Kravitz is a fun nod to Lisa Bonet, her real-life mother who played the sensual singer Marie de Salle in the original movie, with whom Rob strikes a short-lived affair.
Ever since High Fidelity was first released in written form, it gradually became a worldwide cultural phenomenon. This is mainly due to its feat of interweaving pop cultural anecdotes with heartfelt indictments of the male ego, as well as keeping music as a literal cornerstone of the story.
The film from 2000 profited a great deal from John Cusack´s natural likeability, which helped in connecting with the arrogant main character. Especially the scene-stealing performance from Jack Black ushered in his career as a banking movie star, who just as his counterpart from the novel, performs on stage at the end and impresses everybody with his actual musical talent. Before that, all others were convinced that he´s a hot head, who likes to talk a lot about music, yet doesn´t understand how to make music himself, which is another archetype of music lovers. The series even furthered these integral issues, yet was sadly cut way too short, although it demonstrated that the story of High Fidelity is in fact a timeless one.
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Originally published on February 8, 2023, updated on February 8, 2023
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