The High Note

The High Note

Release Date: 
Friday, May 29, 2020
Running Time: 
113 minutes

Music covers are a way of getting something new out of something old, whether it’s a new voice, a new melody, or even the addition of new lyrics. They’re tributes to the original work. The High Note may feature a story we’ve seen before and follow some of the same predictable beats, but it still takes audiences on an entertaining ride thanks to its love of music and chemistry between its characters. It may not constantly hit that high note, but when it does it can be magical.


Maggie Sherwood (Dakota Johnson) has always had an ear for music ever since she was a little kid, and that love has gotten her to work for music legend Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). Unfortunately Maggie is just her assistant and most of her work has nothing to do with music at all. Resigned to making schedules and getting Grace Davis whatever she wants whenever, Maggie dreams of becoming a producer one day, using whatever little free time she has in the studio working on her skills. While out running errands for Grace one day, Maggie stumbles upon David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) performing in front of a grocery store and is instantly captivated by his unique voice. She lies, telling David that she’s a producer and would like to help him out, believing this could be her big ticket out of just being Grace Davis’s assistant if she could show her real passion and talents.


The High Note starts off much like The Devil Wears Prada where it highlights the imbalance between a high class employer and the mostly ignored employee. It’s interesting because at first you hate Grace because she seems like any other celebrity who’s traveling on private jets and having everyone wait on her hand and foot. But as the film progresses, we actually get to see more into Grace’s own struggles. She hasn’t put out new music in over 10 years and has instead relied on touring, live albums, remixes, and covers. Her manager (Ice Cube) wants her to take a residency in Vegas because it’s easy money, but she has her reservations. The High Note does a good job at portraying Grace as not just the ever demanding boss but also as sympathetic. She doesn’t want to fall into obscurity and be seen as some old singer who is way past her prime, despite what everyone around her is telling her, with the exception of Maggie, who seems to care about who she is as an artist rather than just the money she can make.


Their relationship does go back and forth one too many times, however. There are moments where Grace really seems to listen and care about what Maggie has to say, but then moments later she’ll be back to her old selfish ways. Things also further develop between Maggie and David, who makes things more complicated by getting involved romantically. It’s nothing audiences haven’t seen before as The High Note mostly plays perfectly within the realm of what’s expected from the genre. Although I will say that there is a moment towards the end of the film that does catch me off guard, but that’s because it comes completely out of left field and only complicates things further when the film should be wrapping things up. 


As far as the music goes, both Tracee Ellis Ross and Kelvin Harrison Jr. are wonderfully talented and lend their vocals well to their respective roles, Harrison Jr. especially. The original songs for the film are fine, although there is no real standout among them. Some of the best musical work actually comes from more of the intimate moments when they’re either in the studio or just goofing around trying to put a track together and not the songs themselves. 


Ultimately The High Note ends on a high note. It has its ups and downs as it carves its way down a predictable path, but it’s still fun regardless. It’s an entertaining distraction that will leave you with a deeper appreciation of music.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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