The High Note written by Flora Greeson and directed by Nisha Ganatra follows the story of Maggie Sherwood, played by Dakota Johnson, an assistant to music superstar, Grace Davis, played by Tracee Ellis Ross. Maggie whose whole life has been centered around music and her boss, dreams of becoming a producer and tries to finally make that dream a reality, by possibly saving the career of her idol. Now that’s probably what you didn’t get from the trailers, (if you saw them) and neither did I. Due to The High Note’s, predictable writing, it’s length and the issues it claims to address, The High Note, doesn’t quite hit the notes it intends to.
The performances in The High Note are fine enough, but are lacking a little as the writing felt very one dimensional. Grace is your typical guarded celebrity that is out of touch with the rest of the world, and focuses on herself and what she wants to do, you have the roommate that pushes Maggie to get out of her comfort zone played by Zoe Chao falling into the same dramedy tropes that we constantly see over and over again. Aspiring young people and the obstacles they are facing, even though Maggie really doesn’t have that many in the film, which leads me to the major issues of the film for me, the writing as a whole, and the theme pretends to champion.
The High Note’s tone and length are all over the place and is too long, it’s almost as if there could’ve have been two 1 hour long films that could have covered the same story. Characters are very unlikeable and not relatable as well as it’s clear penchant for making Los Angeles references or music industry inside jokes only people that live there would understand. Just as those who don’t live in LA, what the filmmakers are trying to say is unclear and far away from what it thinks The High Note is about.
When you watch the trailer, you are introduced to music legend, Grace Davis who is struggling to have herself heard in a world where women singers over 40 and especially those that are black, don’t have much of a chance to hit #1 on the music charts, listen here: Now when we see that struggle in the trailer it seems as if the audience is going to see the journey of how Grace and Maggie get Grace to #1, this is not so. Instead, the film is pretty much the journey of how Maggie becomes a music producer after working on one song without the express permission of the singer/writer, her finding love, and a telegraphed secret.
What this misleading trailer and plot does is that it presents the film as trying to make a point that older female artists and more specifically older female artists of color, can make it to number 1 on the charts just as long as they have a plucky white producer that can get them there having the film be another example of the white savior trope as well as not really presenting any of the trails and tribulations Grace supposedly has. She is constantly welcome with open arms whatever her opinion is, is open for her to make, she’s not restrained in any way and is super successful throughout the film.
If you would like to make a statement, about despite that Grace was a successful artist in the past, she as an aging artist still deals with racism, sexism, and ageism. Make that statement, by focusing on Grace’s journey and her story how she got to the top and how she recognizes Maggie’s potential. Seeing that potential, she wants to raise Maggie up to a new level as she had those who helped her get to where she is today and through that collaboration, and Maggie’s new ideas and fresh vision, it would bring a new vigor to Grace’s approach that would get her to #1 again. The focus on Maggie’s journey almost at times makes Grace and her manager seem like the villains or obstacles in her way while she is trying to recruit her first client, David, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. who probably has the best performance in the film as a charismatic singer with an obvious past after you first meet him.
Overall, with its confused tone, length, and miscalculation of its meaning and the consequences that might occur with the meaning brings The High Note down a couple octaves.