The High Note review: Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross in ‘charming music dramedy’ – Lewis Knight

Are big dreams enough to make it big in the music industry?

The rather generically titled The High Note follows the dependable but hopeful Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson), the dedicated personal assistant of stagnating music icon Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), who is at present looking to rejuvenate her career.

Grace isn’t the only one, either, as Maggie dreams of becoming a music producer but faces setbacks, including from Grace’s influential manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube).

Taking on an artist of her own in the form of talented and charming singer-songwriter David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), will Maggie achieve her career ambitions or will her duties for Grace bring it all crashing down?

Dakota Johnson plays a personal assistant with dreams in The High Note
(Image: Youtube)
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Ultimately, it’s a credit to the lead actresses of The High Note that it remains so watchable despite being rather formulaic and containing some predictable plot turns and twists.

Dakota Johnson brings a down-to-earth subtlety to a rather cliché role, making Maggie feel a little more authentic than other put-upon PAs from female comedies of yesteryear and emboldened with a certainty in her abilities and ambition. If Maggie’s journey feels too easy or lacking in jeopardy then it helps that Johnson can sell it all very naturally.

Tracee Ellis Ross plays music diva Grace Davis
(Image: Youtube)
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Meanwhile, Tracee Ellis Ross makes a believable powerful but likeable music diva who hides vulnerability and scars from the struggle to get to the top. It’s a shame the script didn’t let her mine further into Grace’s layers, but she got a chance to display her killer pipes.

There are some strong supporting performances from a charismatic and multi-talented Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Maggie’s love interest, proving he’s a star on the rise after excellent turns in Luce and Waves, while Ice Cube has a lot of fun as a cutthroat manager, even if he’s under-utilised in that role.

Ice Cube plays Grace’s vocal longtime manager
(Image: Youtube)
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It feels as though the film could have dug deeper on issues such as being an ageing black woman in the music industry, but it’s still refreshing to see these issues receiving any focus at all and to see a power dynamic and partnership like Maggie’s and Grace’s.

The comedy isn’t overflowing either: there are some amusing one-liners but no big laughs, yet the tone is never too severe or heavy so as to veer away from the mellow delicacy that Johnson and Ellis infuse proceedings with.

Ice Cube with Tracee Ellis Ross in The High Note
(Image: Youtube)
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Viewers will also be able to drink in some gorgeous California scenery and aesthetics which only supports the overall sunny disposition of the film.

The music itself in the film is rather middle-of-the-road and the tracks don’t really stand out a great deal but they fit this same easiness provided by The High Note’s other elements.

Johnson and Ross make a charming duo in the film
(Image: Youtube)

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Showbiz editor’s picks

The High Note is a breezy and light-hearted affair that flirts with some more serious issues but ultimately is a pleasant and mostly formulaic dramedy that displays female ambition, friendship and appropriate music choices in spades.

Verdict

The High Note is a charming music dramedy but the whole is less successful than the sum of its parts. Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross make likeable heroines throughout even if the tale is a little by-the-numbers.

The High Note is released for rental on Video on Demand on May 29, 2020.

What is your favourite film about the music industry? Let us know in the comments below.

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