THE STORY – Set in the dazzling world of the LA music scene comes the story of Grace Davis, a superstar whose talent, and ego, have reached unbelievable heights. Maggie is Grace’s overworked personal assistant who’s stuck running errands, but still aspires to her childhood dream of becoming a music producer. When Grace’s manager presents her with a choice that could alter the course of her career, Maggie and Grace come up with a plan that could change their lives forever.
THE CAST – Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Zoë Chao, Bill Pullman, Eddie Izzard & Ice Cube
THE TEAM – Nisha Ganatra (Director) & Flora Greeson (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 113 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
“The High Note” is the sort of movie that could easily have been trite and even boring in the wrong hands. The film follows a music superstar’s overworked personal assistant who wants to become a music producer. Luckily, director Nisha Ganatra and writer Flora Greeson were able to create something truly delightful with likable characters and a few genuine plot twists. The cast includes three stars who have yet to receive their due for how talented and charismatic they are, and whose skills are on full display here: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Johnson is fantastic as Maggie, Grace Davis (Ross)’s assistant who has been picking up her dry cleaning, juices, and jewels for three years. She’s passionate and knowledgeable about music and dreams of becoming a producer. Maggie’s intentions are pure as she just wants to make music that moves people, but she’s sometimes blinded by her ambition and has a habit of telling people exactly what she thinks even when it’s to her own detriment. Too often female characters in this sort of film are either too perfect or downright unlikeable, so it’s great to see one with some complexity. Johnson has the perfect charm for a relatable leading lady and helps ground a character who shockingly never veers into being annoying despite the mistakes she makes.
Tracee Ellis Ross is the daughter of the legendary, Diana Ross, so seeing her get to play a powerful woman in the music industry is really special. Her character Grace is a diva, but she’s still grounded. Throughout the film, her manager is trying to convince her to take a Las Vegas residency, but she doesn’t feel ready to give up on her career yet. Ross is convincing as a charismatic chart-topper, but also as a determined businesswoman that the audience can feel for. It’s a challenge for an actress to play a diva without losing her likability, but Ross seems to manage it with ease. Plus, her hair, makeup, and costumes throughout the film are gorgeous.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. rounds out the main cast as the smooth-talking emerging singer-songwriter, David. This man seems to be able to do anything and “The High Note” makes it clear that you can add singing to his list of many talents. Harrison and Johnson have fantastic chemistry together, which allows them to carry off what could be a boring and conventional rom-com plot. Johnson also has great chemistry with Ross, and one of the best scenes is just them singing along to “Scrubs” in the car. The other characters (and performances) are largely forgettable compared to these three.
“The High Note” has some genuinely touching moments and a few that hit on the difficulty of being a woman in the music industry. It shows how both Maggie and Grace struggle to get their voices heard in what is essentially a “boys’ club” and how they are both often talked down to. The film touches on Grace’s experience as a black woman in the industry and how she has had to struggle to forge the career she has. The film could have probably gone deeper on these themes and shown us more examples of the obstacles that Grace has had to overcome; however, the film’s general message about the importance of following your dreams and not accepting the limitations put on you by others is lovely, even if it’s been done before.
The film opens with a fun montage of Grace Davis’s achievements – magazine covers, solo tours, Instagram followers – cleverly put together by editor Wendy Greene Bricmont. Music is at the heart of the film, not just in its plot, but also thanks to its fantastic soundtrack. Both Ross and Harrison have some fantastic R&B/soul songs. The soundtrack, co-written by Sarah Aarons and Greg Kurstin, is one that you can easily imagine listening to outside of the context of the film. Ross’s “Love Yourself” is the actress turned singer’s first single, but you would never be able to tell.
“The High Note,” thankfully, is under two hours and has good pacing throughout, never losing the audience. It may not be anything revolutionary even for its genre, but it’s an above-average feel-good summer film. It’s one I could see myself re-watching time and time again, which I think is a great meter of success for a dramedy like this. Great performances, a soundtrack full of bops, and a light but an earnest message: The perfect recipe for a film to watch during quarantine.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Fantastic performances from Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. who have more than enough charm to sustain this feel-good film.
THE BAD – It doesn’t rise above its concept or delve into the issues it touches on as much as it could.
THE OSCARS – None