What comes to mind when you picture the quintessential romcom heroine? She’s likely to be sweet, cheerful, probably a hopeless romantic who has been unlucky in love through no fault of her own. Ultimately, she is likeable. We’re expected to root for her simply because she is nice.
Where other genres have pulled at the reins of the Likeable Heroine, offering more considered and three-dimensional depictions of womanhood, the romcom has largely enforced it – and this may be partly to blame for its dip in recent years. But, happily, a new heroine for our times has arrived to change all that. The best part? She’s kind of a dick.
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In the new 10-part Hulu series High Fidelity, we get to see inside the mind of self-involved record shop owner Rob, played by the effortlessly cool Zoë Kravitz. Adapted from the 1995 novel by Nick Hornby (which then became a 2000 cult-classic film starring John Cusack and Kravitz’ mother, Lisa Bonet), the gender-flipped 2020 version replaces a straight white Londoner with a queer Black woman from Crown Heights – and it’s like a breath of fresh air.
When we meet Rob, she is wallowing in a funk of well-soundtracked self-pity, having just broken up with her fiancé Mac (Kingsley Ben-Adir). Her tumultuous love life is the focus of the show; specifically, her top five heartbreaks, which she revisits in the hope of finding out ‘what’s wrong’ with her.
She mopes around Championship Vinyl while the friends she’s hired do most of the work; fellow music obsessive Simon (David H Holmes) and the scene-stealing Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) provide most of the laughs, and both deserve shows in their own right. Sad as Rob is, though, you’ll never catch her weeping into an ex’s old T-shirt – Kravitz’ heroine is way too self-possessed for that. Instead, she stares broodily into the middle distance, cigarette in one hand and whisky in the other as Blondie and Minnie Riperton records spin on her vintage turntable. Not an ice cream-shovelling stereotype in sight.
Rob constantly wonders why her relationships fail and her friendships are floundering. She also routinely belittles or dismisses those closest to her, walks out on dates mid-conversation by pretending she needs the bathroom, and generally spends most of her time obsessing about her own miserable life (which, by the way, doesn’t look all that miserable from where we’re standing).
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In the first few episodes especially, Rob is by far the least likeable person in the entire show – and as a woman, she is also utterly refreshing and entertaining to watch. It’s one of many things that make the show so of-the-moment, which is why it’s such a shame it won’t be renewed for a second season – as Kravitz pointed out, there is still a dearth of stories being told that put women of colour front and centre.
The 10 episodes we do have, though, certainly leave an impression. High Fidelity’s calling card has always been its honest depiction of how badly people behave when they’re heartbroken, and this adaptation, updated for an Instagram-scrolling, Spotify playlist-making generation, doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat that simply because a woman is in the lead. It flashes one freeing, important truth at us from beginning to end, unmissable as a neon sign: woman behave badly too.
High Fidelity is on StarzPlay now, available on Amazon Prime.
Meena Alexander is Stylist magazine’s features editor.