'The High Note' Should Have Always Been a VOD Movie Directed by Nisha Ganatra
Starring Tracee Ellis Ross, Dakota Johnson and Ice Cube
Published May 29, 2020Now that we're not allowed to go to the movies, studios are scrambling to reschedule their entire year. There are, of course, films that see their theatrical window replaced by a VOD release under the guise of timely kindness. But make no mistake — The High Note dodged a bullet by going straight to home video, where it probably should have resided all along.
Directed by Nisha Ganatra (whose career was predominantly forged in television until last year's decent but instantly forgotten Late Night), the film follows the struggles and triumphs of a music legend's assistant as she struggles to prove she's capable of much more in the music biz than merely fetching smoothies. It's a film about the possibility of meritocracy over nepotism, and it stars Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross, the respective daughters of Melanie Griffith and Diana Ross.
Johnson stars as Maggie, a quietly obedient assistant to Ross's Grace Davis, who is a middle-aged soul diva staring down the twilight of her career. Her manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) wants her to take the "easy" route out with a Vegas residency, but Maggie — like every protagonist of every schmaltzy music movie ever made — wants it to be about the tunes. Her life is a constant struggle between following the rules (that is, getting smoothies and shutting up) and meddling in Grace's career (by, for example, remixing the stems of a track and replacing a remix made by an exaggerated goofball producer, played with unfortunate effortlessness by Diplo).
Meanwhile, Mags has some other troubles in her personal life regarding rich music prodigy David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) with whom she first has an eye-rolling meet-cute with while buying expensive popsicles in an incredibly fake-seeming grocery store. David's got the pipes, you see, but he needs that final push to break him into the biz.
When Maggie fails to somehow book Rihanna as the opener for the private release party of Grace's live album (??), her relationship with the aging star falls apart. Then Maggie goes to spend the weekend with her loveable NPR-type dad (a character played by the endlessly charming Bill Pullman). There's also a plot twist that is so unbelievably stupid that it's hard to tell if it's obvious or unexpected, instead just coming across as insulting towards the audience.
There's a rich history of cornball music media that are incredibly fun to watch despite their cheesiness (A Star Is Born, the entirety of Cameron Crowe's uncanny dramedy Roadies), so it's hard to see why one would choose to spend their quarantine watching this film, which is like one of the non-Lizzie McGuire Hillary Duff movies with less of the fun.