The High Note Review

Wannabe music producer Maggie (Dakota Johnson) is the PA to R&B superstar Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), an artist stuck doing live albums and legacy shows. While Grace’s agent Jack (Ice Cube) pushes her towards a Vegas residency, Maggie thinks it’s high time the world got a brand-new Grace Davis studio album.By Ben Travis | Posted 26 May 2020Stories of high-maintenance divas and their long-suffering underlings have proved a Teflon comedy-movie staple, whether it’s the Meryl Streep-Anne Hathaway duo in The Devil Wears Prada or Nisha Ganatra ’s last film Late Night , which paired Emma Thompson’s highly strung talk-show host with Mindy Kaling’s bright-eyed incoming writer. It’s a formula that proves just as satisfying and endearing in the director’s latest, The High Note, transplanting the set-up into the parody-friendly world of the music industry.

When Charlie Chaplin received his honorary Oscar, he got a 12-minute standing ovation, the longest in Oscar history.

Here, the one with her name in lights is Tracee Ellis Ross’ Grace Davis, a soul icon who remains widely beloved, even if the world only wants to hear her oldies. Acting on her every wish is Dakota Johnson ’s Maggie, a music-obsessive personal assistant who harbours a secret dream of becoming a record producer. As a long-term Grace Davis fan, she wants her boss to fulfil her desire to make something new — though her agent Jack (Ice Cube ) sees an easy win in the artist announcing a year-long Las Vegas residency. “People want ‘Thunder Road’. We gonna give ’em ‘Thunder Road’,” goes his Springsteen analogy.

The movie industry relocated from New York to LA to escape from Thomas Edison's patents.

Strip back some of the filler, and there's a real hit in there somewhere.

It’s a predictable but entertaining set-up, buoyed by the sparkling chemistry between Johnson and Ross, and a glossy Hollywood aesthetic that vibes nicely with the film’s energetic pace and smooth soul jams. All of which makes it more disappointing when the film slows down into a mid-tempo romcom, as Maggie tests out her budding producer credentials on struggling singer-songwriter David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr). As attractive a duo as they make, their interactions — starting with a meet-cute centred on Phantom Planet earworm ‘California’ — threaten to overwhelm the far more engaging Grace Davis plot. It’s a meandering scenic route to the happy ending you know is coming. A funny but improbable third-act reveal, meanwhile, threatens to undermine everything that came before.

"The Phantom Of The Opera." The doll in the Phantom's lair that is supposed to resemble Emmy Rossum is not actually a wax mold. It is Emmy Rossum. The production produced a mask of her face to use on the mannequin but when they put in the fake eyes it didn't look like her. She suggested to stand in as the mannequin instead. This was done by her being made up like a doll with waxy makeup on, and her standing very, very still.

But for all that its melody veers, The High Note hits some, well, high notes. Falling somewhere between the spiky wit and giddy joy of Pitch Perfect and the rise-and-fall drama of A Star Is Born , the film has fun with its heightened world of vapid hangers-on (a scene-stealing June Diane Raphael) and sleazy, dimwit producers (“Is that dope or is that dope? Trick question, it’s dope!” asks Diplo in a brief cameo). It’s funny, too, Flora Greeson’s screenplay peppered with a steady stream of strong gags, and some valid points about the realities of the industry. “In the history of music, only five women over 40 have ever had a number one hit, and only one of them was Black,” Grace tells Maggie in one exchange.

"The Theory Of Everything." In an e-mail to director James Marsh about the portrayal by Eddie Redmayne, Stephen Hawking said there were certain points when he thought he was watching himself. In addition to his copyrighted voice, Stephen Hawking also lent the filmmakers his Companion of Honour medal and his signed thesis to use as genuine props in the film.

The real gem here is Ross, bringing warmth and withering looks as Grace Davis, convincingly a star. Between her and the charming Johnson, The High Note has everything it needs — strip back some of the filler, and there’s a real hit in there somewhere. Tracee Ellis Ross kills it as a believable soul diva in a harmonious pairing with Dakota Johnson — a shame, then, that a distracting romcom plot ends up so high in the mix.


  • The High Note


  • Dakota Johnson
  • Tracee Ellis Ross
  • Kelvin Harrison Jr
  • Ice Cube
  • Nisha Ganatra