Movie review: 'The High Note' means well but can never quite find the pitch

Brad Keefe

The movies that have found the most success in VOD thus far have been been family fare like “Trolls World Tour” and the recent Scooby-Doo animated movie “Scoob!”

And a $20 rental actually makes a lot of sense for a family, especially when the kiddos can watch it a few times in the rental window.

Focus Features’ “The High Note” will be a test of whether that same price tag is worth it for a stay-at-home date night. It’s a music-industry rom-com that boasts some really good performances but can never quite settle on what it wants to be.

Dakota Johnson plays Maggie, a personal assistant to superstar singer Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of Diana Ross). Grace remains a star for the hits of her earlier career, but her handlers in the music biz (including her manager, played by Ice Cube) are pushing her toward cashing in on her past rather than forging new music.

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But Maggie also aspires to do more than pick up lattes. She dreams of being a music producer and believes in Grace. Grace, meanwhile, notes that her position as a black, female singer in her 40s leaves her facing realities of sexism, racism and ageism.

Director Nisha Ganatra and screenwriter Flora Greeson (drawing from her own experience in the music industry) make a well-meaning movie that's a passable distraction but suffers from being a bit all-over-the-map.

At times it’s a bit “The Devil Wears Prada,” but Ross is far too likable to come off as an overbearing boss.

Johnson makes Maggie a quintessential example of “fake it till you make it” in an industry too entrenched to give anyone a chance they don’t create themselves. And an aspiring singer and eventual love interest (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) adds another charming performance while also creating a side love story that lacks focus.

“The High Note” also doesn’t quite come through as a takedown of the music industry, although it does get some of its biggest laughs from the smarmy hangers-on that make money from it.

It is certainly sweet enough and has its heart in the right place, but is only worth the price if the subject matter interests you and your need for distraction is high.

I might suggest that this week, in particular, we don’t need distraction. We need focus. Might I suggest Ava DuVernay’s “13th” on Netflix? That’s what every American needs to watch.

“The High Note”

Now available on VOD
2 stars out of 5

"The High Note"