HIGH NOTE, THE
(director: Nisha Ganatra; screenwriter: Flora Greeson; cinematographer: Jason McCormick; editor: Wendy Greene Bricmont; music: Amie Doherty; cast: Tracee Ellis Ross (Grace Davis), Zoe Chao (Katie), Kelvin Harrison Jr. (David Cliff), Ice Cube (Jack Robertson), Dakota Johnson (Maggie Sherwood), Bill Pullman (Max Sherwood), June Diane Raphael (Gail), Eddie Izzard (Dan Deakins), Sandra Rosko (Roadie); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Tim Bevan/Eric Fellner; Focus Features 2020)
“The feel-good rom-com musical showbiz story never hits the right key.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The feel-good rom-com musical showbiz story never hits the right key, as its drama flounders and its predictability leaves its trite marks on it. It’s erratically directed by Nisha Ganatra (“Late Night”/”Cake”) and is weakly written with too many clichés and coincidences by Flora Greeson.
It’s set in LA, in the heart of its cool music scene. For the last three years the ambitious wannabe record producer Maggie Sherwood (Dakota Johnson, daughter of Don Johnson & Melanie Griffith) is the supposed sane personal assistant to the compelling, high maintenance and passive pop star Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross, Diana’s daughter), a superstar from the ’90s and someone she worships. The thirty-something Maggie has a rich command of obscure music trivia, which gives her an edge in her field. But she’s shy in using that knowledge to make her big career move.
Grace hasn’t put out a record in the last ten years, but still commands sell-out crowds in the big venues where she regularly performs.
Jack Robinson (Ice Cube) is Grace’s long-time cynical manager, who plays the money card game really well and keeps her doing her same safe old tunes as long as it’s so financially rewarding. He regards Maggie as an opportunistic foe, and doesn’t trust her.
When the pop star decides to take a permanent residence at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Jack wants his client to continue to do things the safe way while Maggie wants Grace to put out some new material on a record, but doesn’t have the nerve to tell the boss this.
Meanwhile Grace has met an unknown singer David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in a Hollywood grocery store and the two hit it off on the cute arguing about the different kinds of music they like, whereby she ends up promoting his singing career by fibbing that she’s a big time record producer. When he finds out the truth, he rejects her.
As Maggie’s life is coming apart, not heeding the caveats from her sharp-tongued roommate Katie (Zoë Chao) and the sound advice from Grace’s brash housekeeper Gail (June Diane Raphael), she goes back home to seek comfort from her loving daddy Max (Bill Pullman).
It leads to a last act that has you wondering what’s going down with the Las Vegas deal (will the star ever put out a new record as promoted by Maggie or stay safe with Jack’s winning formula). Since the story was so lumpy, it never got me to care about any of this. I didn’t even care about Maggie, maybe it’s because I’m a big Eagles fan and to my chagrin she disdains them. Or maybe it’s because the film sucks and its absurd twist ending was a low point in a film filled with many low points.
Also food for thought, though Tracee has a good voice– it’s not as good as mom’s.
REVIEWED ON 5/31/2020 GRADE: C-