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Review: The High Note (2020)

The High Note (2020)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra

Premise: The assistant (Dakota Johnson) to a superstar singer (Tracee Ellis Ross) wants to become a music producer. She meets an up-and-coming musician (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and tries to launch his career as well as her own.

What Works: The High Note is well cast. Dakota Johnson plays Maggie, the assistant to a legendary music star, and Johnson convincingly plays a character who is assertive and sticks her neck out, venturing opinions where they aren’t necessary welcome. Johnson is paired with Tracee Ellis Ross as the famous singer. Ross (who incidentally is the daughter of Diana Ross) does this roll well. She plays a woman who has been living on top for a long time and is accustomed to fame and the deference of others. But the character is also over the hill in an industry that caters to youth and The High Note allows her to be more than a show business diva. The film also benefits from a romance between Maggie and a musician played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. Although the romance is underwritten, Johnson and Harrison make a likable pair. 

What Doesn’t: The High Note has a mounting credibility problem. Maggie is the assistant to a major musical talent and her job is initially portrayed as all consuming. By chance she comes into contact with a talented up-and-coming singer and Maggie lies to him about being a producer. Apparently he takes Maggie at her word and never bothers to ask about the other acts she is producing or listen to their work or even do an internet search for her background. Maggie somehow finds the time to fulfill her assistant duties while also producing his album. This should result in some strain as Maggie balances her two jobs but that’s never evident. Furthermore, Maggie hires supporting musicians and books expensive studio time despite having no producing budget. The film’s credibility finally shatters in the ending with an absurd reveal that undermines the whole movie. It’s an incredibly stupid twist that also flattens the drama. As it is, the story of The High Note has very little escalating tension. No one struggles or makes any hard decisions or takes any risks. The ideas that the film introduces about the ethics of show business and the ageism of the industry are brought up but then dropped. There’s just nothing here. This is a Hollywood fantasy in which everyone gets everything they want except the audience.

DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, and a music video.

Bottom Line: The High Note wastes a good cast on a thin story that gradually gets stupider and stupider. The movie aims to be a show business success story but it is so risk adverse and so bereft of drama that it never provides any of the pleasures viewers look for in a movie like this.

Episode: #817 (September 13, 2020)