Ever since first watching the 2000 film High Fidelity in high school, I found myself relating to the record store-owning protagonist Rob, played by John Cusack. Rob was a moody, unlucky in love music snob, too in touch with his emotions and stuck in the past— embarrassingly relatable.
So, when I heard that High Fidelity was getting a TV remake, starring the iconic Zoë Kravitz as a gender-swapped Rob (now short for Robyn), I was instantly excited. My issues with the film had always been my cognitive dissonance between relating to Cusack’s Rob, but struggling with his toxic “but I’m a nice guy” demeanour—something I found inherently masculine and obnoxious.
Yet, High Fidelity (both the film and the new Hulu show) is shown through Rob’s eyes, as the character often breaks the fourth wall to talk to the camera directly. So when Rob is played by the dreamy Cusack, with his puppy dog eyes, you can’t help but be pulled into his guise, no matter how much of a dirtbag he is.
Watching the Hulu adaptation made me wonder why I felt the need to relate to Rob. I realized that while there has been no shortage of “cool girls” on screen, their range was always limited. The cool girl is never the main character. She’s often a foil placed in opposition to the stereotypical uptight, prissy, feminine character due to her chillness (think the iconic Gone Girl monologue).
In Hulu’s “High Fidelity,” Rob is undoubtedly cool—Kravitz just seems to bring that to everything she does. Yet, no matter how hip she appears on the outside, Rob is still a complex character with as much agency as any male protagonist. Like Cusack before her, Kravitz takes on the role of an utter dirtbag.
The female dirtbag may be a useful subversion of the cool girl archetype. BBC’s “Fleabag” made a huge splash in 2016 arguably due to its realistically messy, horny and self-involved main character, depicted by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She’s well-dressed and creative, but deeply flawed in her relationships and unabashedly gross. Similar to “High Fidelity,” Waller-Bridge often faces the camera to engage the audience in her outer monologue. Sure she’s cool, but she’s in control of her own story.
There’s a misconception that for a female character to be “strong,” they have to be exceptionally smart, confident and capable. But, how many among us can truly relate to Captain Marvel or Buffy Summers? Not even mentioning these characters’ overwhelming whiteness and thinness. This outdated focus on strength should be replaced by an imperative for truth and realism.
One trend within this new wave of female dirtbag representation is that most of these narratives are helmed by women. The aforementioned 2020 “High Fidelity,” “Fleabag”—and we can’t forget the pinnacle of female grossness—”Broad City” were all created by women.
When women are allowed to shape their own stories, they’re bound to represent a more truthful depiction of the female experience—warts and all.
Graphic by @sundaeghost