REVIEW: ‘The High Note’ doesn’t earn a high score

This movie may be called “The High Note,” but it never does anything to elevate itself above other flicks in the genre.

The movie stars Dakota Johnson as Maggie, a young woman who works as an assistant to Grace (Tracee Ellis Ross). Grace is a music legend who’s had plenty of hits over her great career. However, lately, her manager Jack (O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson) and others want her to start scaling back, doing just best hits albums and singing at events in Las Vegas. Grace believes she can still make new, great songs, though, and since she produces music at an amateur level as a hobby, Maggie wants to help.

Meanwhile, Maggie also meets David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in the first act. David is a guy who seems to have a ton of musical potential, but appears completely content with doing small shows and simple gigs. Because of his potential, though, Maggie decides to try and help David create an album, too.

A glaring problem with “The High Note” is it tries to juggle these two stories and ends up dropping both. Neither of the two tales being told ever have a chance of getting expanded on because it keeps switching back and forth. As a result, some of the more dramatic moments appear rather hollow because there hasn’t been proper build up.

The movie could have really just focused on Grace, and the whole concept of how musical artists’ newer work is received negatively by fans and how their careers can take down turns as they get older. Or, the movie could have been about a charming romance between this woman wanting to become a producer and this promising artist. The movie just doesn’t have the narrative infrastructure to hold up both, competing stories, though.

It also doesn’t help that the movie is immensely formulaic. For example, the main character tells a little lie, and an audience can see that it’s going to cause all of the characters to become angry at each other at the end of the second act.

The picture goes on to torpedo most of the goodwill it still had at the end, too, when there’s a reveal that makes the whole situation ridiculous and honestly, takes away from themes the movie was going for.

Courtesy Working Title Films, Perfect World Pictures and Focus Features.

Most of the characters featured here are not executed all that well, either. Maggie, for example, is supposed to be this lover of music, but the movie kind of tells the audience, instead of showing it, as all she does is basically name drop artists every minute. I think the aspect of having someone so tuned in to music was portrayed much better in the 2013 picture “Begin Again” with Mark Ruffalo.

Grace, meanwhile, is a more interesting character, and honestly should probably have been the protagonist. Yet most of the time she’s on screen, the audience only ever gets to see her in her status as a powerful music star, and not enough as a person.

I think both actresses put good effort into their lead roles, but they weren’t served as well by the material.

In terms of supporting characters, David is a likable, charming guy, with Harrison getting the portrayal right. However, the rest of the group isn’t all that good. Ice Cube is absolutely miscast as Grace’s manager, as he basically plays his angry persona seen in other movies. Honestly it could have just been the same character from “21 Jump Street.”

There’s also a pair of what I think were comic relief characters in the movie that just aren’t that funny. Zoe Chao plays Maggie’s roommate, while June Diane Raphael is another assistant for Grace. On top of not producing any laughs, the two are also pretty much unnecessary for the whole film and could have been cut all together.

I think this movie missed an opportunity to tell a really interesting story about how women are treated in the entertainment industry once they reach a certain age. Unfortunately, the movie scales this back to a big degree so it can cover a lot of territory and ultimately have a standard feel good story.

In all fairness, the music here is enjoyable, the two lead performers are fine and it does provide some of those feel good moments. The movie just stumbles way too much getting there. 2 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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