In Brief: Decent acting. Decent music. But not much else. You’ve seen this movie before only done better.
The first low note of the The High Note is that you can’t see it in theaters. The Coronavirus pandemic has closed theaters and you can only view “The High Note” on one of a number of different pay-per-view streaming sources.
Dakota Johnson plays Maggie Sherwoode. She’s the personal assistant for demanding soul singer and superstar, Grace Davis. Personal assistant means being on call 24/7. In what little spare time she has, Maggie dabbles in producing music.
The life of a recording engineer tops that of personal assistant any day.
Plus, Maggie just happens to be very good at her craft. She loves music. It speaks to her, touches her soul. She hears music in ways others do not. Producing music is a dream job and Maggie hopes being an assistant to a superstar might be a stepping stone.
Her pal David is a pretty good singer and writes terrific songs. The more Maggie hears David’s music the more she believes in him, and the more she wants to record his music.
That’s where one predictable event leads to another and wraps the story neatly into a semi-drama that includes an equally predictable romance and an accompanying crisis. It’s a little too neatly and way too tidy.
That leads us to who’s directing. The High Note is done by Prime Time Emmy winner Nisha Ganatra (Transparent). The script is from first-time screenwriter Flora Greeson. Ganatra also helmed last year’s nifty comedy, Late Night. It netted Emma Thompson a Golden Globe best actress nomination in the comedy or musical category.
This one — like Late Night — is a little too TVish and has just a bit of an edge. It is in desperate need of one that is much sharper.
Part of the problem is Ganatra’s style. She sticks this one in the same genre as Late Night. Instead of a late night TV host harassing a poor underling, it’s a superstar soul singer. Both films have much in common with the much better, and much edgier, The Devil Wears Prada. And neither Thompson nor Tracee Ellis Ross’ Davis are as wickedly nasty as Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly.
In Thompson’s case, she got close. Not so for Ross.
However, Ross is a lot more likable. In real life Ross is the daughter of music legend Diana Ross. She claims none of Davis’ push to find something different and better for her career mimics her mom’s life after The Supremes.
I can buy that one, but it’s hard not to think the diva part of her character’s personality didn’t come from her mom’s real life example.
What Ross does manage to do is look the part of a diva. She has mastered the much-needed evil-eye and rotten disposition usually associated with stratospheric stardom. Where she does take after her mom is in how well she sings. Her vocals are phenomenal. The music? Not so much.
In places — however — the music will keep you interested. So will the vocals of Kelvin Harrison Jr. who plays David. The plot will not and it, sadly, wastes some pretty good performances.
That leads to Johnson who is very good in everything. She owes much of that to a natural, girl-next-door charm. Johnson is quite charismatic, and that charisma even made her 50 Shades of Grey work palatable.
As the main character, Johnson’s Maggie is the center that the film’s storm swirls around. Storm might be the wrong word. It’s often more like a minor squall. And like the characters done by Ross, Harrison and Ice Cube, there isn’t much room in the plot for Johnson to do anything very deep.
She and the other actors are victims of Ganatra’s nicey-nice style of filmmaking. Plus, you have seen this type of story so many times that you know the event sequences of acts one and two by heart. The lines uttered by the characters are predictable, and the contrived plot points will have you yawning.
It would be bad enough in a theater but in the comfort of your own home, acts one and two have the potential of being more powerful than a sleeping pill.
That said, do all you can to make it to the third act. This is where Ganatra’s movie and Greeson’s story gets interesting. Some fun plot twists are tossed into the mix that turn the way too many low notes into some high ones. Unfortunately, they done come fast enough, there aren’t enough of them and they don’t go very high.
The bottom-line? The too many low notes of The High Note undoes some decent acting and a sometimes up to par mix of soul and pop music.
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ice Cube, Bill Pullman, Zoe Chao, Eddie Izzard, June Diane Raphael
Who doesn’t love Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross and Kelvin Harrison Jr. can sing but so what? Lots of low notes and not enough high ones.
You can find The High Note on a number of streaming sources.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.