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“The High Note” Presents An Enjoyably Simple Tune To Hum Along With

A personal assistant gets a front row seat to both the most glamorous and mundane moments in their employer’s life. There are opportunities for some pretty funny, as well as rather dramatic, moments within that concept. The musical drama The High Note, hitting Premium Video on Demand this week, takes that concept and uses it as a decent jumping off point. There’s a ton of familiarity to the plot, though the cast does put their own unique spins on the material. While the film is nothing to go crazy about, it’s charming, enjoyable, and goes down easy. As the latest high profile flick to skip theaters entirely and premiere in homes, it’s likely to grab a nice sized audience this weekend, arguably bigger than it would have had otherwise.

The movie is a musical drama, focused on Maggie (Dakota Johnson), assistant to superstar singer Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). For a few years now, Maggie has doted on Grace, running errands and such, while never getting much in the way of respect from Grace’s manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube), or Grace’s other employees, like Gail (June Diane Raphael). Secretly, Maggie has always dreamed of being a producer, and when Grace and Jack start to differ over the next stage of her now decades long career, Maggie sees a chance to make her big move. At the same time, she’s met David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) an undiscovered but very talented singer/songwriter that she wants to produce, while balancing some genuine attraction. In true Hollywood fashion, expect everyone’s lives to be changed by the time that the credits roll. Nisha Ganatra directs a screenplay by Flora Greeson. Amie Doherty composes the score, while the cinematography is by Jason McCormick. The rest of the cast includes Deniz Akdeniz, Zoe Chao, Eddie Izzard, Bill Pullman, and more.

A trio of strong performances, along with some very catchy music, make all the difference here. Dakota Johnson takes a fairly simple role and invests life into it. Kelvin Harrison Jr. has never been this charming, while Tracee Ellis Ross is having a ball playing the ego-driven and talent-driven star singer. They’re the highlights, though Ice Cube and June Diane Raphael have very enjoyable supporting turns to contribute, as well. They all add quirks to a story that isn’t all that engaging, on the surface. Luckily, they do, and when the original music is mixed in throughout the flick, things actually do become fairly lively.

The High Note is at its best when not trying to give the story any extra drama. The moments of surprise thrown in are ones you’ll see coming, and mostly do little more than slow down an already too long movie. Director Nisha Ganatra and scribe Flora Greeson contribute fine work, but it’s in the casting and in the interactions of the actors/actresses that allow this one to be a success. The direction and the script rarely call attention to themselves. It’s the music and the performances that do, as mentioned above.

On Friday, audiences looking for a film with some drama, some romance, and some very solid music will have a quality option to consider in The High Note. We’ve had a dearth of new Hollywood movies to consider, so even if it’s never elevated to the level of something particularly amazing, it does hit most of the right notes, if you’ll excuse the pun. Give it a look (especially if you like someone in the cast) and you’ll most likely agree…

Be sure to check out The High Note, coming to VOD on May 29th!

(Photos courtesy of Focus Features)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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