The High Note: Film Review

The High Note

The concept of The High Note – a comedy-drama about a soul diva and her assistant – sounded very much up my street and it didn’t disappoint. It was fairly formulaic stuff, but I still enjoyed it quite a lot.

Tracee Ellis Ross stars as Grace Davis, a famous singer who is at a turning point in her long, Grammy-winning career. Following a recent tour and the release of a live album, she wants to record new music, but her manager Jack (Ice Cube) and record label feel like a Las Vegas residency is the best next step. Maggie (Dakota Johnson) has to juggle being her assistant and secretly pursuing her dream of becoming a music producer, with the help of David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), an unsigned musician.

Just by reading that plot summary, you probably have some idea about where the story is going to end up and what beats it will hit and you’re probably right – it’s pretty standard predictable fare. It’s also not quite sure what it wants to be – is it a behind-the-scenes look at the music industry? A story about following your dreams? Or a rom-com? It is also billed as a comedy but it only made me laugh about three times so more jokes were definitely needed.

Considering she’s the big-time singer, I expected Davis to be the star of the show, but Cliff was the heart of the film for me. I always sympathise with the underdog and I cared more about him making it as a musician with Maggie’s help. I loved the tone and soulfulness of his voice, his appearance (sorry for being shallow), and his music. I’ve already forgotten Davis’ original songs, while I can remember one of his and would listen to it again. I had no idea that Harrison Jr. was such an amazing singer. He was certainly the best in the film. Ross – the daughter of Motown legend Diana Ross – makes her singing debut with The High Note and she can sing but her vocals didn’t blow my mind.

Her music diva also wasn’t the stereotypical evil bitch I was expecting her to be. Sure, she has some egotistical and snappy moments, but she wasn’t a monster and was actually pretty decent with Maggie, which made a refreshing change. I liked that they weren’t against each other and Maggie has some agency of her own – she didn’t spend the whole movie running around like a headless chicken trying to fulfil ridiculous requests. I also liked what the film had to say about ageism and how women in the music industry are treated, particularly if they are over a certain age bracket.

The performances from the cast elevated the film. Johnson has played this type of character before and she does it so well, she’s so watchable and likeable, while Ross (who I’ve never actually seen act before!) was the perfect embodiment of Davis, looked amazing in her luxury outfits, but also instilled a great deal of humanity in her. However, Harrison Jr. stole the show in my eyes, I thought he was incredible, although I didn’t really buy his chemistry with Johnson. There was also a hilarious cameo from DJ Diplo as a douchey producer named Richie, Bill Pullman brought heart as Maggie’s dad, and Zoe Chao was so lovely as Maggie’s roommate Katie. Ice Cube did his usual shtick and I didn’t get June Diane Raphael‘s character Gail at all. Weirdest maid/cleaner ever.

The High Note, directed by Nisha Ganatra, doesn’t reinvent the wheel or offer up many surprises and even feels a bit flat in places but it made me feel good so I can forgive it for those things. I love films set in the music industry, I love films which include a song as part of the narrative (so not a musical), and I loved Harrison Jr.’s voice. If you want a nice comforting film to watch, this fits the bill.

Available to rent digitally now 

Rating: 3.5/5

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