The High Note (2020)

The High Note
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Writer: Flora Greeson
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ice Cube, Bill Pullman, Zoe Chao, June Diane Raphael, Eugene Cordero, Marc Evan Jackson, Eddie Izzard
Seen on: 8.7.2020

Maggie (Dakota Johnson) works as the personal assistant for superstar singer Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). She is a huge fan of Grace and likes her job, but Maggie’s dream is to become a music producer, so she’s been mixing Grace’s live album in her downtime. When she meets singer David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), she hopes that she can sign him as her first artist and become his producer. But her dreams and her obligations quickly clash and Maggie has to make decisions.

The High Note is an entertaining film that is comfortable in the familiar story it tells. Apart from the fact that it focuses on music production – and not singing or playing instruments – there really isn’t much new to the story. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed.

The film poster showing Maggie (Dakota Johnson), Grace (Tracee Ellis Ross), Jack (Ice Cube) and David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) with palm trees and a big apartment building or hotel.

Probably the greatest thing about The High Note is watching Tracee Ellis Ross in full diva mode, being in turns (unreasonably) demanding and selfish, but also vulnerable and caring. Her Grace is neither just a bitch, nor just a sad rich girl, she is both and neither, and it’s beautiful. Dakota Johnson pales in comparison, but that is mostly due to the roles and not because she is any less of an actress.

The two and the chemistry they have with each other really ground the film and there is certainly more of an emotional investment there than with any of the other characters – although David was cute enough (I could have done without that last twist – it was a bit much – but okay). The romance, for all its lack of professionalism, was nicely done. That Maggie got to be unprofessional and make mistakes was generally appreciated. She is a beginner in her field after all and has a lot to learn.

Grace (Tracee Ellis Ross) and Jack (Ice Cube) take a meeting, Maggie (Dakota Johnson) sits in the background.

Still, it’s pretty clear how things will go down from the beginning of the film, with maybe one exception in David’s reaction to Maggie’s attempt at subterfuge where he draws a clear line that I wouldn’t have expected to be drawn in this kind of film. I liked it, and I would have liked a little more deviation from the usual plot tropes as well.

I was also hoping for a more critical engagement with racial issues with white Maggie championing the music of Black artists. Then again, this is not the kind of film that wants to delve deep and be super critical (apart from a couple of moments where Grace mentions how difficult it is in the music business for women over 40, especially women of color). It’s lighthearted fun and it succeeds well enough in that regard.

Grace (Tracee Ellis Ross) talking to Maggie (Dakota Johnson).

Summarizing: Nice.

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