Set against a backdrop of the Los Angeles music industry, the new film from Nisha Ganatra, now on VOD, sees Dakota Johnson play Maggie, a music obsessed wannabe producer, currently working as a personal assistant to superstar singer Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). Between running errands and running Grace’s life, Maggie finds time to oversee production on a live album of her boss singing the old hits and discover a new talent, singer-songwriter David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Passing herself off as an experienced producer with loads of industry hook-ups, she inspires him to write great new songs that could launch him into the big leagues. When a plan to position David as the opening act for Grace’s upcoming tour backfires, it threatens to torpedo all of Maggie’s hopes and dreams.
Following up on Ganatra’s last film “Late Night,” which starred Emma Thompson a late-night talk show host whose career is revamped by the influence of a younger, ambitious woman (Mindy Kaling), comes a story that sounds like an echo of the first. There’s more flash here and fewer laughs, but the essential story of a showbiz icon given a new lease on popularity by a newcomer with fresh ideas has a sense of déjà vu to it.
Originally scheduled for a big screen release “The High Note” moved to a digital release in the wake of the pandemic, which may have been a good thing. Its movie-of-the-week plotting and familiar premise feels suited, in a good way, to the smaller screen.
It’s a story about ambition, empowerment and music geekery given charm by Johnson and Ross. Johnson brings her trademarked steely-yet-vulnerable charm to the role of Maggie, while Ross—the daughter of iconic superstar Diana Ross—is a diva with flamboyant clothes and a temperament to match.
Despite the charismatic performers, both characters feel like caricatures. Maggie is a “High Fidelity” reject, a music junkie who speaks as though she’s reciting the liner notes of her favorite album. Ross does some powerful singing but plays Grace in broad diva-esque notes.
“The High Note” is a pleasant enough diversion as a story of empowerment but doesn’t have enough range to make it memorable.