TL;DR – A completely charming film from start to finish
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Films about the music industry are tricky to pull off because they demand you have genuine emotion in a world of fake glitz and glamour. Indeed the best films in this genre either focus on a newcomer trying to break in or pulling back the curtain to reveal the reality of the industry. Today we look at a film that has elements of that outside story, but it takes a risk by centring it on the heart of the industry with all its glitz, glamour, and biases.
So to set the scene, Mags/Maggie/Margret (Dakota Johnson) works as a personal assistant to the great Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). Grace was a musical icon in her day, but these days she spends her time touring and releasing ‘best of’ albums. Maggie has been her PA for three years, but she wants to take her carrier to the next level and has secretly been remixing Grace’s new live album in her free time. This comes to a head when Grace’s manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) finally convinces Grace to get someone to produce the album and Maggie has to decide if she is going to stay quiet or speak up and take her chance.
The first thing you see in The High Note us just how fully realised all the characters are. Each of the main cast is unique and complex characters, with their own quirks, personalities, and flaws. There is no lazy shorthand used in their set up, that films often use to jump-start the conflict. It is this depth of character that gives the narrative the drive it needs to reach as high as it does on a relatively straightforward premise.
This character depth is also created by the beautiful performances we see from across the cast. The highlight for me was Tracee Ellis Ross’ remarkable performance as Grace Davis. Throughout the film, she oscillates from charming to brutally blunt, from confident to insecure, and from hilarious to deeply sad. It takes incredible talent to pull off such range but still make it feel like the same realised character, but Tracee is here for it. This is contrasted with Dakota Johnson’s Maggie, who is trying to find her way in the world looking for that success that she sees in Grace. Thankfully this film makes sure not to fall into some of the traps that La La Land made in this regard.
While it is the two leads that the film rests on, every part of the cast gives memorable performances that help to create the feeling of charm that you find throughout the film. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is here as David Cliff, Maggie’s love interest and potential first act that she is producing. He has the suave confidence to pull off anything in the film, but there is also pain there which he tries to hide. Ice Cube, who plays Jack Robertson, is first positioned as an antagonist in the film, but it is more layered than that, and you can feel that Ice Cube’s experiences in the music industry helped shape his character. Then we have Zoë Chao as Katie and June Diane Raphael as Gail, who provide sounding boards to our lead cast. Every scene they are in is better for them being there, and they provide some of the biggest laughs in the film.
For a film about music, it should go without saying that the music and songs in this film are also one of its highlights. Both Tracee Ellis Ross and Kelvin Harrison Jr. show that they have amazing voices which is essential because you will hear their songs throughout the film, including Bad Girl that is used multiple times. This is added to by some quality cinematography that makes good use of light to illuminate the world, and they show a remarkable love for southern Californa. Some story beats happen only because this is a movie that gets to ignore the realities of coincidence, but that never holds it back.
In the end, do we recommend The High Note? Yes, yes we do. It is a film with a strong cast that is making the most of every moment on screen. It is hilarious and joyful, while still allowing some of those more challenging moments to hit. If you liked The High Note, I would also recommend to you Rocketman.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The High Note
Directed by – Nisha Ganatra
Written by – Flora Greeson
Music by – Amie Doherty
Cinematography by – Jason McCormick
Edited by – Wendy Greene Bricmont
Production/Distribution Companies – Working Title Films, Perfect World Pictures, Focus Features & Universal Pictures
Starring – Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Zoë Chao, Ice Cube, Jonathan Freeman, June Diane Raphael, Deniz Akdeniz, Bill Pullman, Eddie Izzard, Diplo, Eugene Cordero & Marc Evan Jackson
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: 0; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13