THE HIGH NOTE – A Review by Cynthia Flores
I am a champion for good women powered films. And The High Note is terrific proof that you can have the leads of a film be women with a storyline that doesn’t revolve around boyfriends or husbands, and the world will not come to an end. There’s also a lot of girl power behind the scenes in this movie. It’s the feature film debut for screenplay writer Flora Greeson. And the follow up to the 2019 hit Late Night for its talented director Nisha Ganatra.
The story is set in LA around Maggie (Dakota Johnson), the constantly in motion personal assistant to the pop diva superstar and aging songstress Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). Maggie has aspirations. Unlike Gloria (June Diane Raphael), who is Grace’s person who takes care of her home and is perfectly content to be a hanger-on for the rest of her life. Maggie is someone who has devoted her life to the magic that a great song can give the world and wants to be a producer. She’s a walking encyclopedia of music trivia. Maggie works at night with what little free time to make Grace’s music better and learn her craft. She speaks up and gets the chance to produce one of the songs on the greatest hits live album. It’s for free and uncredited, but it’s on the record.
When Jack Robertson (Ice Cube), Gracie’s cranky and protective of his client manager, sees Maggie stepping out of her place as just an assistant, he’s not happy. He pushes back on Maggie’s rocking the boat and small success on Grace’s album. As he lets her know the score, he unintentionally gives her some good advice. “Go find your own talent to work with and to foster and back away from mine.” Demoralized after her short-lived victory, Maggie takes his words to heart and is lucky enough to find a diamond in the rough named David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). He has a voice like Sam Cooke and smoldering good looks to go with it. She convinces him to let her produce his music. They both have their secrets, but together they’ll push each other to test their talents and grow.
This is not a cookie-cutter story of a naive young dreamer conquering the music world overnight. Maggie works hard juggling all the grunt work she does for Grace as she records with David. Add to that, she has to deal with Jack, who is tired of staying current with his older client. He wants to just park her in Vegas to do a multi-year residency. Grace just had to do the same show over and over to rake in cash for everyone involved. Unfortunately for him, Grace may not be ready to be put out to pasture yet. She’s at a crossroads and must decide between playing it safe or risking it all to put out new music.
All the characters in the film are motivated and connected by their passion for music. In fact, you may want to keep a note pad and pen nearby to take down all the names of musicians and songs that are mentioned throughout the film. And just know you will want this soundtrack to listen to all summer long. After all, the part of Grace is played wonderfully by the real-life daughter of Diana Ross. She seems to have inherited her mom’s pipes and way with a song. At times during the film, she looks like she’s channeling the divine Ms. Ross at the height of her popularity and fabulousness. Also, keep an eye out for Eddie Izzard. He does a wicked cameo as a rock star who lays it all out for Maggie and lets her know the actual cost of choosing music as your passion or career.
The High Note should have been released this summer in theaters. There’s even a small audio coda at the end of the credits. I think it would have been a feel-good hit. But because of the pandemic, it will go directly to VOD. It’s still a fun movie to enjoy, you just get to watch it wearing your pajamas at home.
I give The High Note a 4.5-star rating. I would recommend buying it instead of just renting because you’ll want to see it more than once.
Directed by: Nisha Ganatra
Written by: Flora Greeson
Selig Rating 4.5 Stars
Running Time: 1hr 53min
Drama / Romance / Musical
Wide Release: May 29th VOD (No theaters due to COVID 19)
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Ice Cube, June Diane Raphael, Bill Pullman, Eddie Izzard
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
4 Stars – Good movie
3 Stars – OK movie
2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.