‘The High Note’ Sings Because Of Tracee Ellis Ross’ Star Power

We all have dreams. These ideas tend to burrow into our psyche sometime during our adolescence and early adult years and sit with us for the duration of our lives. Some of us are fortunate to try and nurture these goals and dreams, while other people are forced to push them aside in favor of more realistic endeavors that put food on the table and money into their bank accounts. The High Note suggests that there is a pathway for both.

Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross in 'The High Note'
Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross in ‘The High Note’ | Focus Features

‘The High Note’ is about going after what your heart most desires

Helmed by director Nisha Ganatra, The High Note follows, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), and overeager and sometimes naive Hollywood assistant to the legendary singer, Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). Though Maggie spends her days ordering Grace’s green juices and organizing her schedule, her real ambition is to produce the next Grace Davis hit record.

Not only is Maggie’s life’s dream elusive, Grace’s team, including her gruff manager Jack (Ice Cube), is ready to push the 40-something singer fully into retirement. They are positively gleeful at the idea of a Las Vegas residency, where she would be forced to put on the same show night after night. Grace, knowing the history of Black women musicians in Hollywood, seems torn between her own longings for this new chapter in her career, and the safe choice.

Tracee Ellis-Ross and Dakota Johnson in 'The High Note'
Tracee Ellis-Ross and Dakota Johnson in ‘The High Note’ | Focus Features

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‘The High Note’ puts women center stage

Horrified at the idea of Grace being pushed out of the industry, Maggie begins to push her own agenda toward the singer, which provides a source of conflict for Jack, Grace and a new artist that catches her eye, David (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) Though Maggie, however misguided at first, begins to recognize her self-worth, it is unfortunate, that the film swirls Maggie’s big break and her love-interest into one, especially at a time when women are speaking about all they’ve had to endure to get a leg up in the business.

Still, there is a lot of good in The High Note. It’s astounding that Tracee Ellis Ross has never been put center stage before on the big screen. She is glamorous and complex as the Hollywood legend. Ross expertly teeters the line between resenting Maggie for pushing her toward something different and wanting to remain an aloof untouchable figure. In the end, she must thwart the assumptions of the industry and her own exceptions of herself. Johnson is also great as the wide-eyed dreamer determined to go after her vision. The commentary about women in the entertainment business, especially Black women, is also impactful and little discussed in mainstream films.

The ‘High Note’s third act is shockingly predictable

Yet, where The High Note falls flat is in the third act. Just when Maggie and Grace as poised to be the heroes in their own stories, a strange and morbidly predictable twist will leave audiences rolling their eyes. Luckily, the first two acts, make the film’s ending slightly more forgivable.

The High Note is well-acted, heartfelt, and warm, despite its slightly cheesy and ending echoing a Lifetime melodrama. But with a stellar cast, the film puts the sexism and ageism of the entertainment industry in focus in a mostly thoughtful film.

Focus Features will premiere The Hight Note at-home on-demand beginning Friday, May 29.