A good ensemble cast and infectious soundtrack are utterly derailed by an absurd plot twist. The High Note opens with a predictable scenario that evolves with better than expected execution. Charming characters become more engaging as their musical lives are explored. The High Note seems like it’s surpassing standard rom-com territory. Then slaps you in the face with the dumbest reveal I’ve seen in ages.
Dakota Johnson stars as Maggie Sherwood, the plucky personal assistant to superstar diva Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). Maggie has serviced Grace’s every whim for three long years. The job is a labor of love. She’s smitten by the larger than life personality of her childhood idol. Maggie desperately wants to be a producer. She secretly remixes Grace’s biggest hits. Hoping that one day, Grace will give her a chance.
Grace Davis is at a crossroads in her storied career. Her manager (Ice Cube) envisions live albums and a lucrative Las Vegas residency. Grace wants to sing new material, but is afraid of a poor reception. Meanwhile, Maggie has discovered an incredible new songwriter and singer (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). She decides to become his producer, but falls in love as well. All worlds collide as Maggie struggles to support Grace while following her own dreams.
The third act of the film boggles the mind with stupidity. No spoilers, but trust me. The ending goes in a direction that throws intelligence and common sense off a cliff. A character’s secret is completely unbelievable, especially in LA’s cutthroat music industry. It is unreal that the filmmakers, studio, and cast supported such a foolish outcome. Ostensibly smart people make dumb decisions together. The High Note suffers badly from Hollywood groupthink.
The silly conclusion torpedoes the performances at the worst possible time. The characters reach moments of true reckoning. Maggie knows music, has clarity of vision, but is afraid to confront her hero. Dakota Johnson adds real depth to Maggie’s wistfulness. Tracee Ellis Ross, the daughter of the legendary Diana Ross, gives Grace Davis a soul. She is not a fickle celebrity exploiting a hapless lackey. The fear of failure still haunts someone who has achieved the pinnacle of success.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. has a remarkable screen presence as David, Maggie’s protégé and love interest. He’s confident and disarming at the same time. Their relationship begins on a purely musical foundation, but grows as they fill in the gaps to each other’s lives. It’s aw shucks sweet, and almost won me over; but becomes the biggest casualty of the idiotic finale. Kelvin Harrison Jr. continues to be impressive. He was excellent in last year’s indie hit Waves. He adds substance to what could have been a cookie-cutter character.
The High Note needs a different edit. Nothing too drastic, just a few snips to excise the ludicrous reveal. The music, acting, and script had been a winner up to that fateful point. The film turns into nonsense once it insults your intelligence. The High Note is a production of Perfect World Pictures and Working Title Films. It is available to stream this Friday on demand from Focus Features.
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Film critic, raconteur, praying for dolphins to grow thumbs and do better.