Friday, May 29

The High Note Review

The High Note
Dir: Nisha Ganatra
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Bill Pullman, and Ice Cube

There’s a moment in Nisha Ganatra’s new film “The High Note” when a young musician does a cover of “You Send Me”, a song made famous by the legendary Sam Cooke. It’s my favorite kind of music cover, one that isn’t the same as the original but tries to compose its own unique style. 

This might be the best way to describe “The High Note”, a sometimes sweet and many times completely charming film about chasing dreams and making beautiful music in many different ways along the way. The film is familiar, cliched at times, but its pulse accomplishes an appealing rhythm of notes that have great feel-good qualities all over them. 

Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a superstar, a musician with a storied career big enough to warrant the prospect of holding residence as a Las Vegas attraction. However, in the eyes of Maggie (Dakota Johnson), Grace’s overworked and underappreciated personal assistant, the songstress is an icon with many more stories to tell and songs to write. Grace, on the other hand, isn’t sure of her relevance in the music industry and her oversized ego creates concern about making a comeback. Grace’s longtime producer Jack (Ice Cube) is pushing for remix and greatest hits albums, but Maggie secretly wants to be a music producer and is hoping Grace will give her the chance to produce a new album. 

“The High Note” moves a bit awkwardly at first, the introduction of Grace and her considerable ego alongside Maggie and her somewhat starry-eyed, naïve approach to the music business takes a few scenes to find its footing. But once Tracee Ellis Ross and Dakota Johnson settle into the relationship of their characters, the chemistry between them holds the remainder of the film together, especially when predictable familiarity takes control of the journey. 

The narrative keeps everything fairly simplistic, even while it hints at some deeper conversation starters regarding issues of race and age in the music business. There is no doubt that Ms. Ross could have deftly handled some deeper subject matter explorations. Whether dealing with a boardroom full of men telling her what is best for her career or listening to a smug music producer trying to explain that her music isn’t relatable to younger generations, Ms. Ross does an exceptional job of displaying her true emotions through simple physical movements like eye glances, hand gestures, or the movement of her body. 

One of the most admirable aspects of the film is that all the actors do their singing; Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of Diana Ross, easily steals most of these scenes with her impressive voice, while Kelvin Harrison Jr., playing a singer named David who likes performing at hipster grocery stores, has a couple of really good moments performing well-known covers, and Dakota Johnson even has a small moment to showcase her melodic abilities. 

“The High Note” is easy comfort cinema right now, a movie that succeeds primarily because of a dedicated cast doing great work with modest characters and an understanding that sometimes fun, heartwarming music moments will make up for the shortcomings of a narrative. 

Monte’s Rating
3.25 out of 5.00

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