The glamorous world of the Los Angeles music scene isn't all it's cracked up to be. Just ask all the celebrities' personal assistants. They run around ragged always trying to please their incredibly demanding employers. Meanwhile, they have dreams of their own. Let's face it… many of them live in the entertainment hub of California with their own aspirations of "making it big". Focus Features' release The High Note is one such story. Originally slated for theatrical release on May 8, 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic made that impossible so, like many other films, it is being released digitally on May 29, 2020, instead.
Maggie Sherwood (Dakota Johnson; Fifty Shades of Grey) works as a personal assistant for iconic, yet aging, superstar Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross; Black-ish) – think Diana Ross later in her career. Maggie wants nothing more than to be a record producer but gets shot down at every turn, even by her boss. Meanwhile, while Grace wants to record an album of fresh material, her manager, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube; Ride Along) and the record label want her to release a greatest hits live album and consider a Las Vegas residency, neither of which she is especially interested in doing.
One day, while out running errands for Grace, Maggie meets David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.; Waves) in a grocery store. When he invites her to a party he is throwing, she doesn't seem very interested until she sees him outside the store performing at a street fair. Maggie then decides to go to David's party to convince him she is a record producer and that she wants to produce his album. After some leg-pulling, he finally agrees and they work in the studio at all hours of the night. She then purposely sabotages Grace's live album launch party by asking the opening act (who she was responsible for booking) to bow at and at the last minute tricks David into performing instead. Unfortunately, things don't go as planned and Maggie loses her job and her first client.
Ellis Ross is perfect to portray the aging diva trying to hold on to her career and Harrison, Jr. is well suited to his role as well with the vocal talent to back up his character's story. Johnson walks a fine line between being a pushover – a necessary quality of most movie personal assistants – and testing the boundaries of what she needs to do to have her dream job. Ice Cube is a nice addition as well.
Directed by Nisha Ganatra (Transparent), The High Note has good pacing and easy-flow making the film enjoyable to watch. I do wonder what the movie would have looked like with a more seasoned feature film director but Ganatra does a good enough job to make it a feel-good film that probably would have been a treat for moms on Mother's Day. It also would have had a different feel had it screened in theaters, especially Grace's concert scenes.
The biggest gem of The High Note is the music. Somewhat Jazzy mixed with R&B, it sets the tone for the whole movie and makes you want to run to the nearest store to buy the soundtrack. Smooth and soulful, it captures the essence of what I'm sure writer Flora Greeson was hoping to achieve with her first film writing credit. It will certainly be interesting to see what she can come up with next for her sophomore film.
Good acting, good directing, a decent script, and some terrific music, makes The High Note a worthwhile option for those who like a good old fashioned Cinderella story and offers a decent new release until movie theaters reopen.