“The High Note” – Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a superstar! This 11-time Grammy winner has burned up the charts and live shows for decades. Director Nisha Ganatra showcases this woman’s voice and showwomanship during the film’s opening minutes. With Grace’s on-stage entourage in tow, she sings her lungs out in front of sold-out audiences from Detroit, Miami, Dallas, and more.
The production values soar off the charts and pop from our small screens. Promises of bold musical numbers fill our heads, until they don’t. It turns out the said live eye-and-ear-candy only lasts a few minutes. You see, after Ganatra’s movie runs out of the gate with lively, jam-packed arenas, cheers, screams, applause, hot lights from the stage, dancers, musicians, and Grace Davis herself, the big moments end and never return.
You see, this movie is partially about Ms. Davis, but the focus of screenwriter Flora Greeson’s narrative is Grace’s assistant Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson). “The High Note” is Maggie’s story: her record producer dreams.
“I grew up around music,” Maggie says and adds, “It’s my whole world.”
At the moment, this early 20-something is currently growing up around music, by running the mundane errands for Grace.
Maggie’s friend Katie (Zoe Chao) adds, “This woman doesn’t even know your last name.”
Well, she doesn’t care if the world doesn’t know her last name, because Maggie wants to make unknown artists famous by producing fantastic music. She’s comfortable behind the scenes. One would think that Grace would pull our heroine away from ordering takeout, keeping track of her appointments, and picking out suitable outfits for important meetings and social functions. Then again, Grace has zero intention to give up Maggie, because this young lady tends to her needs so well.
So, Ganatra follows Maggie around Southern California, as this wannabe-music executive endlessly pushes to break out of her current gig by conversing with her best buddy and arguing with Grace and her actual producer Jack (Ice Cube).
On random occasions, the film bequeaths moments of the Hollywood Sign, the Capitol Records Building, and a couple of extraordinary homes, but mostly, the audience is treated to discussions of Grace’s career in bland offices and recording studios.
This aging performer knows she’s sliding down the back half of her chosen profession, and as we all know, Father Time is undefeated.
Luckily, Maggie sees a way out from her cycle of mediocrity with a new vocalist that she meets at a Laurel Canyon farmers’ market. David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is talented, and he is her ticket to producer-heaven!
It’s all so exciting, except it isn’t.
For every personal assistant out there, “The High Note” could be your movie. Maggie’s plight may speak to you, but this recycled, pedestrian flick feels like a waste of time and a letdown after the initial concert-goodness.
Just think of “The Jazz Singer” (1980), as Jess Robin (Neil Diamond) struggles against his religion and his father’s wishes. Neil Diamond plays a singer who tries to reach his musical dreams. Neil Diamond, right? The film’s fatal flaw is that he barely performs over the 115-minute runtime.
In “The High Note”, Ross’ crooning time is not as limited. Ross and Harrison Jr. do sing, but mostly in the studios, and rather than garner most of the film on Davis’ troubles, the movie subjects us to her subordinate’s issues. It’s mostly about Maggie.
Think of a “Star Wars” film that fixates 80 percent of its celluloid on Chewbacca. Oh wait, we’ve seen that movie: “The Star Wars Holiday Special” (1978).
“The High Note” isn’t that bad. It’s just an uneventful one. To put it another way, it’s flat.
⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
(“The High Note” is available to stream on most services)
Image credits: Focus Features; Trailer credits: Movieclips Trailers