HOLLYWOOD─It is a daunting task to deliver a musical drama that works without moving in multiple directions. I had high hopes for “The High Note,” but it totally falters in my opinion. It is not a bad movie, but it’s a movie that is not certain of which trajectory it wants to take. The movie stars Tracee Ellis-Ross, Dakota Johnson and Ice Cube, with the focus on Grace Davis (Ross) an aging singer doing all in her power to keep her relevancy, knowing that her time in the musical arena will soon come to an end.
By her side she has her driven, yet naïve assistant Maggie (Fanning) and her let it rip, take no prisoners manager Jack (Cube). People had been raving about Ice Cube’s performance and it is indeed a unique one. Fiery, blunt, vicious, hard-nosed, its Ice Cube like we’ve never seen him before, but for such a splashy character, he comes and goes with the wind blowing. He has a presence in the beginning and then virtually disappears before making a brief appearance and leaving again.
Ross, whose character who appears likable, but she is not that likeable in my personal opinion. I thought this might be a character that audiences would connect with, but she plays an egotistical singer who is so used to having ‘yes’ people surrounding her and giving her everything that she wants at the snap of the finger, it’s annoying. There is indeed some slight redemption as we reach the third act, but by that time I didn’t care about the character. The audience learns a few things that we shouldn’t take as a surprise: the music industry is brutal. The music industry is sexist, its racist and you have to gravel and claw your one to potential recognition if you’re not the star.
The movie gives the inclination that Davis is the focus of the movie, but she is not. It is Maggie (Johnson), Grace’s assistant who the movie focuses on. Her tale of juggling being there day and night for her boss, while chasing her dreams of being a music producer, while having her dreams crushed by those who don’t believe in her. Rather she receives advice from Jack, Grace or others, she learns an important thing: not everyone is as passionate about your dream as you may be. I will give the movie points for its thematic focus on the notion of chasing one’s dream no matter what obstacles or pitfalls that are thrown in their direction, it is encouraging for all the dreamers out there.
“The High Note” has some fun music, and Ross absolutely shines as Davis. She has a great singing voice, but c’mon, this is the daughter of the great Diana Ross so why should one expect anything less. There is also a shining performance by Kelvin Harrison, Jr., who plays a rising singer and love interest to Maggie, who has some secrets in his past that come to light. Should I have spotted this minor twist from a mile away? Yes, but you do find yourself immersed in the narrative to a point where you just follow along. “The High Note” entertains, but it is not the movie that is going to linger with you long after you’ve watched it.