The High Note [Review]

4145_D019_00171_RC Dakota Johnson stars as Maggie Sherwoode and Tracee Ellis Ross as Grace Davis in THE HIGH NOTE, a Focus Features release. Credit: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

Here’s the thing, I am a sucker for musicals. Musicals always have this way of making you feel like no other movies can. It’s something that I always loved and from the very first trailer for The High Note, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to see it and the soundtrack was already something that I loved from the trailer. Because a musical is nothing without the music, it can have the greatest story of all time but if the music doesn’t work, well the film won’t work either.

The High Note might not be classified as a straight-up musical but in my eyes, it is because the music is so important to the story. It’s at the center of everything and it helps advance the story at times. It’s a soundtrack that once available, I will find myself listening to non-stop. But also, the film uses music in ways that don’t overpower the story. It lets the story breathes and weaves originals songs as well as current songs we all know and love in a way that never takes away from what you are seeing. It’s something that some musicals can’t do but The High Note never puts the music first, instead of treating it as an extension of itself and that shows.

The strongest point of the film is the acting. Ross and Johnson’s chemistry elevates the film to something more. Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Luce, Waves) continues his streak of great performances that prove he is one of the most exciting and promising young actors in Hollywood right now. But the film really belongs to Tracee Ellis Ross who not only brings her comedic chops to the film but also showcases a dramatic side that we don’t get to see her use enough. It’s easy to make comparisons between her character Grace and Ross own mother, Diana Ross but it might be why it works so well for her. She brings something to the role that I don’t think any other actor would have been able to create. While the main trio shines in their own moments and together, the film belongs to Ross which is why I find it a shame that she is not the main focus of the film.

One thing I wish the film had done is to have made Tracee Ellis Ross’ (Black-ish) Grace the main character instead of Dakota Johnson’s (Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy) Maggie. While I enjoyed Maggie’s story of a struggling artist trying to make her mark while also working for her idol, it a story that has been told before. The story of a famous singer of colour over 40 years old who struggles to continue her career because everyone wants her to relieve what they consider her glory days is something we haven’t seen before. That doesn’t mean the film doesn’t work, because it does but it’s an opportunity that I wish the film had taken.

The High Note doesn’t change the game, some of its surprises are easy to discover and it’s not hard to see where the film is going. But you also can’t help but feel pulled into it. It’s not the perfect film but even when it’s not the strongest it can be, the film is enjoyable as ever. No matter what happens, you are invested in the character’s story and you want them to succeed no matter what. It’s something that not all movies can do and it helps us forgive it’s flaws.

If there is one thing that I wish is that we could have watched this film in theatres. It would have benefited from the big screen, the surround sound, the audience, etc. and it’s a great shame that we won’t be able too. The High Note isn’t perfect in any way, but it’s entertaining and has a killer soundtrack, pair that with great acting and you find yourself with a winning combination. I might be biased because the film is something that seems to be tailor-made for me but it doesn’t change the fact that I found myself going back to certain moments after watching it and that is the best thing a movie can do. Make you think about it even after you are done and wanting to watch it again. That is exactly what The High Note did and I, for one, can’t wait to see it again.