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Film Review: “The High Note” (2020) ★★★★


The music industry, overall, is a tough place to be in but can be rewarding nonetheless. If you have talent, voice, and stage presence, producers will buzz around you like bees over honey. But that producer is nowhere to be found. And when there is one, most of the time, the talent will either not be noticed or it will be too late.

Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a musical icon of the scale of Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. She has enough songs to have herself retire gracefully. However, there are things that she wants to take care of on a daily basis, which is why she has Maggie (Dakota Johnson) as her assistant. But there is one little problem between the two – both of them see the other’s future from a different perspective; Maggie wants to become Grace’s new producer but Grace wants Maggie to remain her assistant. When the two are about to make a choice, the ladies will have to face each other and even confront to realize that certain things cannot be bought – a strong bond between them.

Maggie is a young and vibrant woman. She works round the clock, is supremely talented, has great musical taste, and thinks outside the box. When she wanted Grace to adjust her musical album, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) interferes, to decline the new approach being offered by Maggie. When Maggie meets David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), she offers to become his producer. While the two try to find common ground, the biggest surprise is yet to hit them in the truly moving “The High Note”, written by Flora Greeson and directed by Nisha Ganatra.

The soundtracks produced by GRAMMY Award-winner, Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins [Michael Jackson, Beyoncé, Toni Braxton), the film offers truly outstanding songs that are worth listening to as many times as you want. That alone makes “The High Note” one of the most interesting films with an exquisite taste in music; something that could have been delivered by “Darkchild” only. As for the concept, even though the premise is clichéd, due to the appearances of Tracee Ellis Ross, Ice Cube, Dakota Johnson, and the exceptionally talented Kelvin Harrison Jr., the film becomes more like a dream you would not want to wake up from.

Furthermore, characters written are rich, engageable, and intelligent. Not even a single scene or delivered line looks dull or unconvincing. As for the singing, both Tracee Ellis Ross and Kelvin Harrison Jr. shine throughout by bringing us back to the sweet 90s through the songs they perform. As for Dakota Johnson’s Maggie, she is what we all need sometimes – determination, a little faith, and the courage to take one step that can define our present and future. As there is a lot we can learn from Maggie, it is her experience and perseverance that helps Johnson to tackle the role and giving a solid result.

That being said, “The High Note” is not just a musical drama, it’s about human dignity, chances we take in life, and the little things that help people grow as individuals. Maggie has everything we want to see in her as a professional. Grace Davis is not just a musician who cares about her persona; at times she does, but she is a grounded individual who helps us understand her relationship with Maggie even better. This is why “The High Note” is a film you should certainly see – because of female empowerment, a beautiful friendship, and a work ethic which, in most cases, we get no chance to observe on the big screen.

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