“When there are no more surprises, then who am I doing it for?” Grace Davis – The High Note
I watched the upcoming Focus Features release THE HIGH NOTE last weekend, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed – I actually watched it twice! A feel-good film, packed with plenty of empowering messaging, “The High Note” strikes all the right chords and is pleasant viewing for drama, comedy and music lovers alike.
The film is set in LA, where international superstar Grace Davis lives an extravagant, and ego-driven, lifestyle – the rewards of her veteran status in an industry that adores her based on past works, but wants and expects no evolution of her as an artist. Her dedicated, albeit overworked, personal assistant of three years Maggie (Dakota Johnson) is a dreamer with an ear and heart for music who desires to become a music producer – and more specifically produce Grace, who she’s personally admired since childhood.
When Maggie is challenged by Grace’s long-term manager Jack (Ice Cube) to up her game and work with her own artists, she takes advantage of her chance encounter with, and romantic interest in, up-and-coming singer/songwriter David (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) which propels both Maggie and Grace forward towards lessons on humility, self-awareness, and trust.
“I was also really excited to tell the story of two women, Maggie – who is trying to break into a field that doesn’t really take women seriously, and Grace Davis – a music icon who is struggling to stay in a field that sidelines women when they get to the age of 40. To me, it was a beautiful story that I hadn’t seen told.” Nisha Ganatra, director
While focusing on the dynamics that impact and hinder women in the music industry, the Flora Greeson penned story places emphasis on not only age, but race as well. Grace’s character notes in the film that of the five women in the history of music over 40 that had number one records, only one was Black.
“Only 3 women (Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Linda Perry) have been nominated in the history of the Grammys for Producer of the Year. More and more young women are breaking in – and there are so many talented producers out there – I hope this movie shines a light on them too.” Nisha Ganatra
As I researched Ms. Ganatra’s quote, I learned that, to date, actually six women – which includes the aforementioned as well as Paula Cole, Sheryl Crow and Lauren Christy as part of The Matrix production team – have been nominated. However, that low percentage is still an indication of how much women aren’t as highly regarded or taken as seriously as their male counterparts in certain roles.
What the film also accomplishes, in addition to being entertaining and educating, is showcasing the remarkable works of women throughout – including iconic divas like Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples, Maxine Brown, Carole King and more.
And with powerhouse songwriters contributing to its soundtrack – like Corinne Bailey Rae and Sarah Aarons, as well as legendary music producer Rodney Jerkins – The High Note is replete with catchy new tunes (I adored the opening song “Bad Girl”) and dramatic ballads, accentuated with the vocals of both actors Tracee Ellis Ross and Kelvin Harrison, Jr on various tracks.
Albeit, it would have really driven the point home if a woman, let’s say Missy Elliot, was a producer on the project! No shade towards Mr. Jerkins, I love his work, but the premise includes a woman wanting to produce after all, so the aforementioned just makes more sense.
One of my favorite moments in the film is with Grace (Ross) sharing a self-written tune with Maggie (Johnson) for the first time. And with Ross sharing her vocal prowess with the world for the first time in the film, it makes the scene even more poignant.
With solid performances by all the leads, and with Ross and Johnson really shining against type – dramatic and comedic respectively – the film is a savvy and witty new take on the classic romantic dramedy, filled with great music and good laughs. I rate THE HIGH NOTE 4 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
The High Note is available at home on-demand this Friday, May 29. Get additional information, including how to purchase, at the official website WatchTheHighNote.com.
Until next thought, Thomasena