Sometimes it’s all comes down to execution…
While no one can ever argue that there isn’t anything that is in The High Note that isn’t entirely predictable and expected, it’s simply not trying to be anything more than pleasant music driven rom-com and it succeeds thanks to some top notch from all involved who knew exactly the kind of film that they were making.
Set in the dazzling world of the LA music scene comes the story of Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), a superstar whose talent, and ego, have reached unbelievable heights, and Maggie (Dakota Johnson), her overworked personal assistant. While stuck running errands, Maggie still aspires to her childhood dream of becoming a music producer. When Grace’s manager (Ice Cube) presents her with a choice that could alter the course of her career, Maggie and Grace come up with a plan that could change their lives forever.
The High Note makes for an entertaining experience because while it isn’t trying to do anything all that ground breaking or new it manages to execute all the necessary beats of the genre and actually say something important at the same time.
This film really does follow many of the same beats as director Nisha Ganatra’s previous effort; Late Night but that’s not necessarily a bad thing and she very clearly knows what she is doing.
It rather effortlessly follows the beats and the tropes of the genre from the put upon assistant who’s just looking for her big shot, to the arrogant star who eventually learns an important life lesson, to the charming love interest brimming with talent all the way to both primary characters having best friends who get all the zingers throughout the script.
Sure it’s predictable but it follows the formula for crowd pleasing success so well that you have to at least have to sit back and appreciate it all as it almost feels like an 80’s Throwback of a film that you’ve had on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD AND Blu-Ray.
It’s a female led film with Ganatra teaming up with yet another first time screenwriter in Flora Gresson and together we really get an honest and earnest sense of the struggles of not only women in the music and entertainment industry but women of color as well. There’s also enough sly little digs at the music industry itself in the script to make any level of music fan over the age of 25 crack a smile on their faces which makes for a film that is smart, but knows not to be ‘too’ smart for its audience.
Comedies like this also need leads that work well together and on The High Note the casting director earned their money to be sure. Tracee Ellis Ross does great work here as Grace Davis; a singer with some iconic songs from her past that can still earn her a living but knows that as an aging woman of color it’s going to get harder and harder to not only hold on to her good life but find some creative validation as an artist as well. Ross allows the character to relish in the over the top gonzo moments of humor but still have real heart about them in the more genuine moments.
Meanwhile Dakota Johnson is slowly but surely shedding the Fifty Shades stigma as she is proving time and time again that she can easily carry a movie like this as our heroine Maggie. Granted it’s light and there isn’t a TON of emotional weight to carry in her character, but she allows it all to feel genuine which is certainly good enough for me.
The balance of the ensemble cast is solid as Kelvin Harrison Jr steps into the romantic interest/creative ingénue slot quite well while Bill Pullman and Eddie Izzard have some fun bit parts and Ice Cube channels years of experience in the music business playing the hyper aggressive friend and manager to Grace Davis.
When all is said and done, no one will ever accuse The High Note of trying to change the cinematic wheel and in its defense, it never actually tries too. It just wants to be a light and effective piece of entertainment…and it’s exactly that. There’s a reason why people will call movies like this where beloved and famous people get knocked down a peg and learn life lessons to become more humane while at the same time plucky young people who are under the famous person’s wing will get ultimately find the man and the job of their dreams after going through a hardship ‘formulaic’. It’s because when it’s done right, like it is here…the shit just works.