THE HIGH NOTE (2020) movie review by Gwen Hughes

I was shocked by how good this movie was, but I shouldn’t have been. Give Diana Ross’s daughter a mic and Melanie Griffith’s daughter a starring role and that’s a recipe for success.

From Late Night director, Nisha Ganatra, comes another amusing take on the boss-assistant power struggle starring actresses and showbiz legacies, Tracee Ellis Ross and Dakota Johnson.

Ross plays overbearing, but prolific musical performer, Grace Davis, navigating the “autumn years” of superstardom in Los Angeles, and Johnson her devoted and overworked assistant, Maggie, whose days are spent picking up piñatas and pressed juices.

The latter, our protagonist, also has dreams of becoming a successful music producer and spends her evenings and weekends secretly remastering some of Davis’ old hits. She’s a pupil of everyone from Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin and can rattle off music history like it’s nothing. Enter interest and fellow music-savant, David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Maggie discovers a voice outside her thankless job. If only she can convince Grace and the rest of the music industry that she’s more than procurer of pressed juice. Kind, politely-outspoken, and driven, Johnson’s portrayal of Maggie is uniquely-honest and a testament to great casting.   

Another great feat of this filmmaking? Neither female lead is confined to popular archetypes of “boss” and “assistant” that even classic, beloved films like The Devil Wears Prada fall into. While Miranda Priestley, boss from hell, becomes vulnerable at the end of Prada, Grace Davis feels consistently human. From sharing her struggles as a black, female recording artist over 40 to driving around with the top down belting TLC’s “No Scrubs,” the woman is real. It’s equally refreshing to see an assistant character who doesn’t completely abandon her morals when things get tough. Go Maggie.

While lauding great actresses for great performance, some critics of the film argue that the star power of Grace Davis does not come close to that of Ross’s mother and that Davis’ singles are not believable as the timeless classics the film purports them to be. But abandon those obvious comparisons and you are left with honest performances, catchy songs, and a strong, female-driven story. I’m certainly not complaining.

The credits rolled and I felt something like euphoria. We don’t get films like this very often and we must cling to them and celebrate them when we do.

(Now streaming on Amazon Prime)

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Gwen Hughes is a seasoned writer and the Editor-in-Chief at Madison Park Living magazine. When she is not working, she enjoys reading short stories, quoting John Mulaney Netflix specials, and eating family-size boxes of Mott’s Fruit Snacks. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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