Review by Sean Boelman
Foregoing a theatrical release in favor of releasing direct to viewers’ homes while theaters remain closed, the new music industry romantic drama The High Note is a bit off-pitch. That said, great performances and a charming (if generic) script allow the film to be mostly diverting and saccharine entertainment.
The movie follows the personal assistant of a once world-famous diva singer trying to make a comeback as she deals with her own aspirations in the industry. The film plays out as a pretty by-the-book rags-to-riches tale, and that’s admittedly pretty disappointing given the amount of potential in the script (this was previously included on the Black List).
Perhaps the fatal flaw in the movie is that it chooses the wrong character to be the protagonist. Although the personal assistant (Dakota Johnson) is perhaps the more approachable of the characters, her boss, the superstar trying to hold onto the spotlight (Tracee Ellis Ross), is far more interesting. Unfortunately, the latter’s arc is relegated to a B-story.
There’s also an additional subplot involving the protagonist discovering a talented singer and trying to produce his music as a backdoor into the industry. Even though it ultimately ties into the main arcs quite well, it takes a long time to get there and it’s clearly the most underdeveloped and unsatisfying part of the film.
Without a doubt, the best thing that the movie has going for it is its cast. Ross is phenomenal in her key supporting role, giving a performance that will likely have her in Golden Globes talks come the end of the year. She absolutely nails the charming but forceful qualities of the diva personality. Ice Cube, Bill Pullman, Eddie Izzard, and Kelvin Harrison Jr. are also all great, but aren’t fully utilized.
The soundtrack of the film itself is great, but the way in which it is incorporated isn’t always the best. There’s one song (“Bad Girl”) that is heard about five different times over the course of the movie in three different ways. And with the rest of the tracks the filmmaker’s had at their disposal — including the excellent “Love Myself” (The High Note) — it’s a shame that they fell back on that one.
Stylistically, the film is bright and full of glitz and glamor, exactly what one would expect of a movie like this. Director Nisha Ganatra brings a competent but unspectacular style to the movie that doesn’t do it any favors. Thankfully, the strong performances make the film stand out loudly among the crowd.
The High Note isn’t amazing, but it’s entirely harmless and mostly satisfying. While there’s a truly great movie in here somewhere, audiences are left with an agreeable and ordinary drama elevated by its stars.
The High Note hits VOD on May 29.