The High Note

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Tracee Ellis Ross in 'The High Note.'
Tracee Ellis Ross in 'The High Note.'
Photo: Focus Features


The High Note




4/5 Stars


A superstar singer and her overworked personal assistant are presented with a choice that could alter the course of their respective careers.


It might not be some grand biopic of a famous musician, but as a light rom-com and behind-the-scenes look at the music industry, The High Note is surprisingly delightful with a solid cast, director and script that made it on to the prestigious Black List in 2018.

While it doubles up as a story about shooting your shot for your dreams, it's also a tale of women standing up for each other in an industry run by men. So many themes are difficult to hold onto at times, but it remains a feel-good movie with a sick soundtrack.

The story focuses on the assistant (Dakota Fanning) of a famous singer (Tracee Ellis Ross) who she idolises, and dreams of becoming her producer. She makes many mistakes en route to reaching her goal, while balancing producing an unknown grocery store singer (Kelvin Harrison Jr) who has the potential to make it to the big time.

The strength of The High Note lies squarely in its characters and cast. Written by newcomer Flora Greeson, they are incredibly well-rounded, authentic and feel like real people. The plot gets a little janky here and there as too many themes are juggled, but the audience is distracted by great dialogue, great performances and fictional people that you would love to hang out with. I was especially impressed by Grace Davis - impeccably played by the powerhouse that is Ross, who channelled her famous singer mother's energy for the role. She isn't just a one-dimensional terrible boss who hated being a singer or missed out on some lost love or some other hackneyed storyline they love to throw at boss women. She isn't perfect with a massive ego, but she's at least human and radiates the dignity befitting a diva.

With a white main character surrounded by a predominantly black cast, the story could have easily fallen into the "white saviour" danger zone, but luckily Greeson and director Nisha Ganatra were nimble enough to call Fanning's character out on her crap when it was warranted. There are nuances to the industry she doesn't understand, and I'm glad she gets schooled from time to time by professionals who have paid their dues to get to where they are. While not called out directly, there's definitely a lesson to be learnt about "whitesplaining", and I applaud the film for making a statement without making a statement.

Also, Ice Cube makes an appearance as a tough-talking manager - enough said.

As for the film's original soundtrack, it's a fitting tribute to the R&B and soul genre and its legends, twisted into music for today by producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins. The multiple Grammy-winner has worked with the likes of Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Mary J Blige - to name a few. What's most special about the soundtrack though, is that Ross is singing publicly for the first time, alongside the fantastic pipes of Harrison Jr. As the daughter of Diana Ross, she throws her talent around like it's nothing and proves she can really do it all. Stop For A Minute is a bop, Track 8 is great songwriting and the duet Like I Do will touch your soul.

It might not be A Star is Born, but as far as music films go that aren't biopics, I was delightfully surprised by The High Note for its performances, soundtrack and heart.


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