‘The High Note’ is a sweet but unremarkable story about the music industry
Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross star as two leading women navigating the music industry
In a time when the coronavirus has completely upended life, including the movie industry, the movie “The High Note” offers a nice escape from reality. This is a world where you can still attend concerts, meet cute someone by bumping into them at the grocery store (masks not included) and go to parties without thinking of the health hazard.
“The High Note,” directed by Nisha Ganatra, follows the character Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson) in her attempt to make the jump from an overlooked assistant to a music producer. She spends most of the movie trying to balance the needs of the aging pop star Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) with finding her own voice and place in the music industry.
Ross plays Grace as loveable, charismatic and more than a little out of touch with reality. She’s glamorous and high maintenance, but she’s also vulnerable and refreshing — especially when she speaks out about how the industry treats older women. Though the two are sometimes at odds with each other, Johnson and Ross’s chemistry is one of the film’s highlights.
The cast, outside of the two leads, is stacked with talent (Ice Cube and Eddie Izzard, to name a few), but the writing for their characters seems like an afterthought. No two characters, even Johnson’s love interest, have as much chemistry or are as authentic.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays David Cliff, a singer who would rather play at a bat mitzvah than commit to becoming a full-time musician. When Johnson discovers him and offers to produce his music, the two take on “A Star is Born” kind of relationship: two people trying to make it in the music business brought together by a love of music. Harrison Jr. is funny, warm and a perfect foil to Johnson, and if the character was fleshed out more, he could’ve been a great leading man.
Although the film shows Ross’s struggle as an older Black woman in the music business, the film leans more into Johnson’s coming-of-age plotline than a commentary on gender and racial inequality in the industry. All mention of those topics seem half-baked at best, so if the film’s goal is to really highlight those issues, it misses the mark.
A movie about music is only as good as its soundtrack and in this, “The High Note” delivers. Ross and Harrison both showcase their vocal talent. Ross’s songs are bombastic and glittery pop songs, while Harrison’s songs are a blend of R&B and pop (think Daniel Caesar or Leon Bridges). The songs that aren’t original, like Aretha Franklin’s “Share Your Love with Me” and Donny Hathaway’s “Jealous Guy,” are played over iconic scenes of Los Angeles and add to the sense that this movie is for those who really love music.
This movie is also made for a certain type of millennial: an overworked, career-focused young woman with an offbeat and irreverent best friend combined with a visual aesthetic of neon lighting, quirky clothing and decor. These tropes have become signatures for movies by and for young women. The movies “Someone Great” and “Set it Up” also fit into this category. All three were written and directed by women, so it’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues as a new class of women filmmakers start to take the reins.
Ultimately, “The High Note” is just okay. It’s sweet and heartfelt, but it doesn’t make much of a lasting impression. It is, however, perfect for taking your mind off of the outside world for two hours.
Rating: 3 stars
“The High Note” is available now to rent for $19.99 on Amazon Prime, YouTube and Google Play.