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Main| Who's Next to the Triple Crown?»
Thursday
May 28 2020

Review: The High Note

by克里斯Feil

Are VH1 Movies That Rock still a thing?The kind of movie that the VH1 programming gods connected through the vague thematic tissue of music, casual comfort viewing meant to be consumed on repeated Sunday afternoons, structured flawlessly to pause for snack breaks?It’s as if those gods had carvedThe High Notefrom gold for how much the film embodies that vibe.

The film centers around a music icon Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) and her assistant Maggie (Dakota Johnson).As Grace attempts another relaunch of old music, Maggie’s music producer ambitions clash against Grace’s tried-and-true formula for success - and the star’s wariness that her assistant might be using her coattails.But Maggie begins to grow her producer chops (and a little romance) with a fledging singer songwriter (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), and struggles to balance her goals with her loyalty to her demanding boss within an uncrackable industry...

The High Notesets up expectations for a dance throughThe Devil Wears Pradadiva-boss-agrieved-assistant territory and then surprises by giving us subtler and more humanly grounded textures.This makes it something tailor made for the coziest of rewatches, if not the most high octane of first ones.What's most exciting about the film is the small measures it takes to avoid overt cliches rather than any kind of reinvention - it accidentally sets a ceiling on its potential for greatness, but mostly spends its time hovering near it.

This comes largely from the characterization of Grace and the relaxed summer breeze of a performance by Ellis Ross.The actress downplays where others might search for more obvious camp, turning out a believable pop queen that never strays into caricature.Ellis Ross’s diva is fun but fully-formed, a woman who is defined as much by her sacrifices as the joy she still has for her artistry.It feels unavoidable to note that the film channels some of her own megastar mother’s energy, which makes it perhaps even more remarkable that the actress leaves the film striking a firm identity for Grace that is all her own.

Ellis Ross also shares an effervescent chemistry with Johnson and the underrated Ice Cube, a delight in a similarly oft-cliched role as Grace’s no-budging manager.Together the ensemble equally calibrated to not overdo the archetypes, which helps alleviate some of the overt familiarity to the film’s plot beats.

Yet all this avoidance of hitting types and story benchmarks as hard as similar films does not mean the film plays modestly.Directed by Nisha Ganatra (with a more consistently controlled approach than last year’s Late Night), the film blossoms exactly as you want it to in its musical sequences.Bolstered perhaps more by its rock and soul history literacy,The High Noteat least can boast three earworm original songs, the best of which is the duet “Like I Do”.I defy you to not hear Ellis Ross crooning the refrain of “Bad Girls” (alas, not the Donna Summer one) for days on end.

Though a third act reveal that might lose some viewers, it does tie all of the film's threads into an emotionally satisfying whole right whenThe High Note’s separate plots begin to feel choppy.It throws a major complication to the narrative and too quickly tidies it, but deepens all of those small-scale unique character notes that come before it.Ultimately, we’re left with a film that functions like much pop music that manages to linger - it does something we’ve heard before, but in a slightly different way.

Grade:B

The High Noteis now available on VOD!

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Reader Comments (4)

Was this movie supposed to be in theaters?If it's eligible for Oscars what chance does Ellis Ross have?

May 28, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterTom G.

Tom -- it was supposed to be in theaters, yes.Best Original Song possibility ?

May 29, 2020 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Excited to see this.The film is actually opening at one my local drive-in theaters this weekend!

May 29, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

Kelvin Harrison Jr.is so talented.I hope he's going to give us an Oscar performance soon and a full frontal.Even this last would be okay, not necessarily an Oscar performance

May 29, 2020 | Unregistered CommenterPP

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