‘The High Note’ Review: Once More With Feeling
The inner workings of the music industry have always proved the perfect subject for films. Seeing how things are done behind-the-scenes in that storied industry is compelling, and watching somebody come from nothing to become a star is always great drama. We saw it recently with 2018’s A Star is Born, which in itself was the third iteration of that type of story. In the new film, The High Note, the music industry is once again revealed to audiences, with a diva at the end of her career and the rising star who looks to break into the business coming together to help each other out.
Dakota Johnson stars as Maggie, the personal assistant to fading mega-star Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross,) a diva songstress whose better days have come and gone and who relies on tours performing her top hits to keep her fans happy. Although Grace wants to record new music, her manager, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube), always deflects and aims his client toward performing in a residency in Las Vegas instead.
Maggie has other ideas, and takes Grace’s biggest hit song and produces a new version of it in hopes of gaining her trust, to mixed results. Maggie’s dream has always been to produce music. Kelvin Harrison, Jr. plays David Cliff an undiscovered artist in Los Angeles with a golden voice. When Maggie stumbles upon him at a grocery store, she sees a possible superstar that she can produce, and this sets in motion a series of events that culminates in a predictable third act.
The High Note takes certain liberties with the music industry, but it also shines light on the goings on behind the scenes. It’s interesting to watch how Grace Davis, the aging diva, is handled, as her longtime manager, Jack, and her assistant, Maggie, constantly butt heads over the direction of her career.
Tracy Ellis Ross channels her real-life mother, Diana Ross, in the role, playing the diva to perfection. She also sings her own songs and the soundtrack easily makes up the best part of The High Note.
Ice Cube plays Jack Robertson. Cube draws on his own decades of experience in the industry for the role and he looks like he’s having fun chewing scenery and dashing dreams. There is gravitas in his role and it comes across very well.
Dakota Johnson does an admirable job as Maggie, doing what she can with the material given to her. The problem is the character is vastly underwritten and she’s not given much to work with. Johnson is able to keep the story going since it all rests on her shoulders, but there are some definite cracks.
The star of the film is clearly Kelvin Harrison Jr. The High Note sizzles when he’s on screen. He is infectious, excitable, and the songs that he performs are masterfully done. They’ve been stuck in my head long after I watched the film. His chemistry with Maggie is more believable than the relationship between Maggie and Grace.
Unfortunately, The High Note suffers from a very weak third act. There’s actually a twist that’s seen coming from miles away, and it brings the film down a bit when it all is revealed. Flora Greeson’s script fails the actors and the characters, as all of the character wins in the film are unearned.
I never felt that Maggie ever did anything worthy of where she ends in the film, and the rewards that both Grace and David get at the end are the true resolutions of The High Note, and Maggie has left on the wayside. In fact, none of the characters seem to earn their positions as the credits roll, and that is an issue.
Mega producer Diplo plays the role of Richie Williams, a producer brought in by Jack to remix Grace Davis’ biggest hit. He overplays the part to the point of ludicrousness and it makes for a funny and engaging scene. His scene is easily the funniest in a film billed as a comedy.
The High Note doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre. As a comedy, it doesn’t have enough laughs, and as a drama, it doesn’t have enough obstacles for the characters to overcome. I generally like movies about the music industry, and even with the strong performances by the cast and the incredible soundtrack, this note seems a bit off.
The High Note is rated PG-13 and is available now on demand.
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