Who are you doing it for once there are no more surprises? Surprises rarely happen anymore for Maggie (Dakota Johnson), a personal assistant for some odd years to one of the greatest singers and entertainers of all time, Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). Maggie does everything, whether that be getting Grace’s car, her dry cleaning, booking appointments, general service stuff. Her role is to do this, and be quiet. Menial as this sounds, there’s stability found, and recognition given by Grace and those around her.
Yet, Maggie has aims on something more. She doesn’t want to be a mere servant to the stars, she wants to be a contributor to the stars, having an ear for producing that few know about. As fate would have it, the stars align for Maggie to chart her own destiny, starting with a chance run-in at the grocery store with David (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), who is quite the singing talent and only in need of the right professional push and touch to become a rising musical star.
What is The High Note? Something of a cross between A Star is Born and one of the worst performing box office movies of all time, the EDM-infused We Are Your Friends. It is comfort food, featuring a cast of likable actors and actresses wrapped in a pleasantly predictable production. The type of movie that would probably be a sneaky box office summer hit if there were such a thing this year.
Don’t sleep on Nisha Ganatra. The director has last year’s Late Night, as well as episodes of critically acclaimed series in Mr. Robot, The Mindy Project, and Shameless to her name. The High Note could fit on television too, as not all of it screams silver screen suitable. Stylistically though, music-biz oriented movies especially of the fictional variety tend to get better mileage if they’re able to feel as if their subjects truly exist, like you could search for them on Spotify or see them on E! News. Costume, set, and production design found in The High Note courtesy of Jenny Eagen, Melissa Levander, and Theresa Guleserian, respectively, go a long way in creating that. The lasting remnant of the movie is probably going to be the poppy and cute soundtrack, co-written by Sarah Aarons and Greg Kurstin.
Similar to another recent release in End of Sentence, The High Note adheres to very familiar story sounds and metronome clicks minus the raw and natural emotion that film possesses. Save for a 3rd act reveal that works more for mild shock than substance boost, this is a competent script that boils down to a message stew of “never settle, never give up, bet on yourself,” regardless of whether one is established or up-and-coming. A theme that has stood the test of time. I could do without the “I have to pretend to be this because otherwise X person won’t want to be/work with me” plot point, however, as it’s hard to see where the eventual issues that arise would be if a brief conversation was had.
The High Note settles at a tick above average predominately because its key actions the movie revolves around are actually performed by cast members. Ross uses her legendary mother Diana Ross as a template for her Grace Davis, and shows off a confident, alluring singing voice and presence fitting of a musical star. Speaking of presence, Harrison Jr. is continuing to build his after a brilliant 2019 in Luce and Waves, here proving to be multifaceted and electric anytime he’s on screen whether that be singing or delivering lines. Even in the onslaught of the Fifty Shades days, Johnson showed she was an effective thespian, and she has firmly ascended to reliable territory. Cube…does Cube things. Still one of the better rappers-turned-actors of all time, once again comfortably inhabiting that angry guy need who’s great for a few laughs.
A simple, sweet story of seeing through dreams and following one’s heart, The High Note isn’t perfectly tuned all around. But, some consistent production and natural talent make sure this is not all the way flat.
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