Lighthearted and Charming
With stories of female empowerment all the rage in Hollywood these days, it was only a matter of time before the movement took on an industry forever entrenched in the practice of not taking women seriously: the music business. But that’s exactly what the The High Note, starring Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish) does.
Though women singers have enjoyed great success behind the microphone since the beginning of time, very few manage to avoid the sidelines once they hit 40 and even fewer opportunities exist in the behind-the-scenes goings-on such as production, tour management, promotion and the like, all of which are practically dominated by men. Though screenwriter Flora Greeson and director Nisha Ganatra never really hit hard enough to incite any change in the industry, The High Note takes on both dilemmas with a lighthearted, charming little female-centric tale about following your dreams and taking risks.
We pick up with a look at the chores of Maggie (Johnson) who is the personal assistant to mega superstar pop singer Grace Davis (Ross), the celebrated musical talent who has won countless accolades throughout her extended career. Keeping pace with Grace’s diva demands keeps her assistant running at full throttle nearly 24 hours a day.
When not traversing Los Angeles running errands, picking up dry cleaning, or trying to get her boss’s plant-based smoothie just right, Maggie is secretly perfecting her own personal mix of Grace’s music with hopes of eventually making it in the cutthroat, male-dominated music industry as a producer.
Convinced that determination and hard work will eventually open a door in the industry, Maggie takes on the business of gifted musician David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison, Jr./ The Photograph), but is less than truthful about her place in the industry. In addition, as Maggie and David begin to collaborate on some music, Maggie finds herself stretched to the brink between the menial tasks of her job and the gravitational pull of her life’s dream. Eventually mustering up the courage, Maggie asserts herself and reminds the legendary singer that she might just have a bit more gas left in the tank.
The High Note does little to position itself as an expose of the dirty underbelly of the entertainment business. It’s just not that kind of movie. And that’s really too bad, because what we see in in Greeson and Ganatra’s work is so pitch perfect in what they set out to do, we can’t help but wonder what impact the film could have had, were it to bare a little more tooth. The film leans quite heavily into the catch-22 issues that arise between Maggie and Grace – how can one rise through the industry ranks when the one at the top is unwilling to recognize the talents of the one beneath her – while never taking its message too seriously.
That criticism aside, there’s very little to complain about save for a few anachronisms and minor missed opportunities. The cast is fantastic, with Johnson continuing to hit all the right notes after finally shedding the misery of those wretched 50 Shades of Grey debacles. She’s on a bit of hot streak, having turned in great performances in Suspiria, Bad Times at the El Royale, and The Peanut Butter Falcon. That run continues, this time alongside Harrison, Jr. who also brings it big with not only his charming performance, but also with his soulful vocals. The palpable chemistry between the two is a pleasure to the senses, as we watch their relationship grow and their stars begin to rise as newcomers in the music business.
The High Note also stars Ice Cube, Bill Pullman, Zoe Chao, and June Diane Raphael. There’s also an all too brief cameo from Eddie Izzard that is quite entertaining itself.
You can’t go wrong with The High Note, a fun and humorous respite from all the bad things going on in the world right now. Pushing play on this VOD release is like dropping the needle onto the grooves of your favorite feel-good slab of vinyl. Its sweet jams and inspirational message are always on key and sure to set you in the right mood.
The High Note is a pleasant enough little reminder that with hard work and a little luck, talent can take you to the top.
(Released by Focus Features and rated “PG-13” for some strong language and suggestive references.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.)