In a time when so much is uncertain, society looks to escapism and stories of resiliency. With The High Note, Focus Features provides a necessary, if forgettable, feel good romantic comedy set in the contemporary LA music industry.
The film stars Dakota Johnson as Maggie Sherwoode, an aspiring music producer working as the personal assistant to icon and living legend Grace Davis, played by the incredible Tracee Ellis Ross.
Emulating her own mother, Ross sinks her teeth into a role that was destined to showcase her natural born singing talents and empathetic understanding of the industry at play within the film. Her singing in the film isn’t spectacular, instead showcasing her well-rounded set of skills as an emotive performer and impressive actor.
Rounding out the cast are Ice Cube and Kelvin Harrison Jr. in equally understated, easily digestible performances. Cube plays Jack Robertson, the shark of a manager who oversees Davis’s empire. His firm opinions and stern demeanor provide much of the initial conflict for Sherwoode in the first few sequences in the film. Harrison Jr., who recently shot to the spotlight in A24’s Waves last year, stars as David Cliff, an aspiring musician complacent in playing quiet gigs around the town.
The film begins by introducing viewers to the chaotic world of Sherwoode.
As a personal assistant, she is often hidden in a corner and trivialized by her employers and peers. Meanwhile, Davis is pondering her next career move. Nearing age 40, Davis is belittled by those around her. Robertson encourages her to fall into a safety net in the form of an up to 10-year Las Vegas residency, but its clear that Davis longs for another album of fresh songs to rejuvenate her tired catalog. Both Sherwoode and Davis are internally struggling, yet they unknowingly hold the keys to each other’s evolution as artists.
The film begins to shift its focus when Sherwoode meets the charismatic Cliff through a chance encounter at a grocery store.
Their instant connection and playful banter surrounding music is an immediate draw, with their will-they-won’t-they business partnership leaving viewers questioning whether or not their relationship will become something more. Sherwoode revels in the opportunity to develop Cliff’s sound, proving to herself and Davis that she has what it takes to produce an A-lister like Davis herself.
Though set in the music scene, the film largely revolves around the blossoming relationship between Sherwoode and Cliff. Johnson and Harrison Jr. are easy to watch, as the two beautiful characters grow closer and closer throughout the film. Meanwhile, Ross’s comedic and often poignant performance is underutilized. Each scene she’s in is juicier than the last.
The film could’ve benefited from a greater focus on the career of Davis and Sherwoode’s input in that trajectory. With a story rooted in the checkpoints of the romantic comedy formula, The High Note is nothing out of the ordinary. For viewers looking for a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of the music industry as it stands today, they may be left disappointed. Its depiction of the business is superficial at best, with occasionally insightful moments outlining agism and sexism.
What makes the film a worthy watch is its sharp execution of the story the filmmakers set out to tell – a love story through which individuals grow as individuals and in a relationship.
From the beautiful LA imagery to the convincing, grounded performances from the cast, it’s the perfect feel good to remind viewers that there is good in this world, and that good can be found through music and the shared connection it’s capable of bringing forth.