‘The High Note’ review: glossy music industry comedy is the film equivalent of easy-listening

Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross fight for their right to be heard, backed by an impeccable soul soundtrack

Just before we start, a quick catch-up: have you and yours been fighting over the remote control a lot recently? Are tempers starting to fray? Are you fed up with hours of endless scrolling, unable to agree on something everyone wants to watch? Is mum threatening to lock herself in the bedroom with a Jason Statham box set if she doesn’t get her way? Fear not, reader, we may have a solution.

The High Note has something for everyone. Small children and the elderly. Warring sisters. Cats and dogs. Think of it a bit like your average pop song. It’s bland but fun. If you heard it playing in a supermarket you might not even notice it at the time but later, in the car, you’d start humming the familiar melody and smile.

The central plot is roughly ‘The Devil Wears Beats’: the tale of a powerful woman with an ambitious assistant, set within the glamorous Los Angeles music industry. Our heroine, Maggie, is the glorified intern played with sometimes grating awkwardness by Dakota Johnson. Her boss is 11 times Grammy winner Grace Davis, given depth by Tracee Ellis Ross in a performance that bears only the faintest resemblance to her mother Diana’s similarly stellar career. Away from the main action there’s a romcom subplot which starts with a meet-cute in a supermarket set to the sound of Phantom Planet’s ‘California’ – and ends with a spectacularly silly twist. The less said about it the better.

Importantly, the music really works. That’s presumably in large part thanks to the involvement of Darkchild, the legendary producer behind the likes of Destiny’s Child’s ‘Say My Name’ and Whitney Houston’s ‘It’s Not Right But It’s Okay’. A safe pair of hands, in other words. The original music recorded for the film sounds authentic. Ross’ version of Lee Moses’ 1967 R&B track ‘Bad Girl’ is so much fun it convinces you she really could have produced a world-beating back catalogue. Maggie’s love interest David, played by the swoonsome Kelvin Harrison Jr., gets to show off his best Sam Cooke impression. Fittingly, for a film that has such reverence for music nerds, the soundtrack is magical, filled with delicious picks like The Staple Singers’ ‘The Weight’ and Cher’s ‘All I Really Wanna Do’.

The High Note
Ice Cube and Marc Evan Jackson round out ‘The High Note’ cast. Credit: Universal

The supporting cast is sprinkled with gems. Ice Cube is hilarious as Grace’s manager, perfectly happy for his star to take the boring Vegas residency that Maggie sees as little better than retirement. Bill Pullman puts in an adorable turn as Maggie’s scruffy DJ dad. Diplo stretches his acting chops with a cameo as a sleazy producer churning out awful remixes. At one point you will say to yourself: “Oh shit, I forgot Eddie Izzard is in this.”

Director Nisha Ganatra’s last film Late Night trod similar ground, with Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson in the Johnson/Ross roles. There’s plenty here for fans of that film, even if it feels a little more PG in comparison. Maybe that’s a good thing. Like we said, The High Note is fun for all the family.

Details

  • Director: Nisha Ganatra
  • Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Ice Cube
  • Release date: May 29 (VOD)
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