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The High Note – Movie Review

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The High Note – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

The premise of a young rookie and the demanding boss they work for is a familiar one, but there are always ways to take classic tales and freshen them up. Director Nisha Ganatra explored this territory last year with Late Night and now gives it another go with The High Note. Going from New York and the television business to California and the music industry, she finds herself a charming lead with Dakota Johnson. However, the movie feels undercooked for most of its runtime as the plot moves at a slow pace. The High Note does eventually pick up in the final third, but the film doesn’t fully explore the world it’s depicting.

What elevates a lot of the film is the lead performance from Johnson. She presents the needed likeability and her various emotions as Maggie copes with her job and aspirations. However, screenwriter Flora Greeson makes sure to highlight her flaws and there are times when popular singer Grace Davis’s frustrations are understandable. As Davis, Tracee Ellis Ross portrays the character’s diva tendencies, but doesn’t go too overboard. It’s surprisingly not a large role as most of the focus is kept on Maggie, which was probably the right artistic decision. One scene stealer comes from the always reliable June Diane Raphael as part of Davis’s entourage.

Those looking for some real insight into the music biz won’t find much in The High Note. It doesn’t delve that deeply into that world and mostly glides along as Maggie attempts to progress her career while keeping on to her assistant job. The characters just don’t feel as developed and fleshed out as they could have been, especially when a romance forms between Maggie and an aspiring singer. The spark just isn’t quite there between Johnson and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., although they definitely try. Johnson appears to have more chemistry with Zoe Chao, who plays her roommate. There just needed that extra burst of energy in the film’s direction.

The movie eventually finds some footing in the last act, as helped by the welcome presence of Bill Pullman and some genuinely funny lines. Where the filmmakers take Maggie’s arc is actually quite interesting and one wishes the rest of the movie managed to capture this same freshness. For most of The High Note, one is unsure whether it wants to satirise the industry or go for something more straightforward. It’s a very lightweight movie that could have used a bit more edge. The closest it gets to that territory is with Ice Cube’s music producer, a role that seems tailor made for him.

The High Note is exactly the sort of movie made for airplane viewing. There isn’t that much insight into its subject and setting, but it proves distracting and inoffensive enough in its presentation. The film mostly belongs to Dakota Johnson, who proves herself as a likeable lead and there is a rooting interest in seeing Maggie succeed, even if she does a few underhanded things. It is uncertain how the movie would have performed with a theatrical release under normal circumstances, but the current VOD price is rather pricy for a film that will be forgotten about in a week’s time.

Stefan Ellison

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