In this era of reality, competitive television making stars out of talented unknowns, it is a curiosity why a film about the rise or fall of a musical star would be a hot commodity. And yet, Nisha Ganatra’s “The High Note” strikes the right chord between two generations as one star misses her beats, and an unknown is looking for the “in” to get herself noticed.
Dakota Johnson stars as Maggie Sherwoode, a precocious wannabe who happens to have the same knowledge stored about music in her head as the Library of Congress has archived. We get a sense that she wants more than her employer, Grace Davis, who is willing to give her. Grace, played by Tracee Ellis Ross, is in the middle section of her career. She has made a name for herself, but she hasn’t recorded any new music in many years.
Yet, Grace remains very protective of her image. And she has a talented producer in Jack Robertson, played by Jack Robertson.
Flora Greeson’s script doesn’t push boundaries within the music industry, keeping to the “it’s not who you know, but who knows you” adage. Ganatra keeps Maggie and Grace on their respective toes as Grace looks for the next evolution in her career, and Maggie, who secretly works to produce a record for Grace, also seeks to evolve her career.
Maggie eventually discovers David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison, Jr, “Waves,” “The Photograph”), and an infatuation between them develops. The story tries to hold back as much of its reveal until the third act as it can, making that reveal as natural as it possibly could have been. However, once David comes on the scene, the story takes a distinct direction.
The highlight of the film is in the supporting cast, which anchors the story. Ice Cube’s Jack Robertson is always trying to keep his composure and boundaries. Maggie’s father, Max (Bill Pullman), plays low-key, giving the impression that the apparent outcome won’t occur.
“The High Note” plays like a 1980’s movie replete with a believable underdog, a credit to Greeson’s development of the character as well as Johnson’s performance. A lack of an antagonist undermines the integrity, but does not diminish the relationship with Grace as it strikes the right notes to create a sweet melody.
- The High Note