Staying On Top

The High Note 
Stars: Tracee Ellis Ross, Dakota Johnson, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Zoe Chao, Bill Pullman, Eddie Izzard, Ice Cube and Melanie Griffith
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Scriptwriter: Flora Greeson
Composer: Arnie Doherty
Cinematography: Jason McCormick
Working Title Films/Focus Features
Rating: PG 13
Running length: 112 Minutes 

Tracee Ellis Ross is famous for her role in the television series “Black-ish.".” Some may not have made the connection between Tracee Ellis Ross and Diana Ross.  Daughter and Mother.“The High Note” is Tracee’s role as a singer and she does well.  What courage to play a singer who is at the top of her game and your Mom is part of the music business.  Not only that, but co-starring with Tracee Ellis Ross is Dakota Johnson, whose Mom, Melanie Griffith is also an actress and has a cameo role in this film.  It is, indeed, “all in the family.” 

“The High Note” concerns two women, Maggie (Dakota Johnson) and Grace (Tracee Ellis Ross) in the music business and the in’s and outs of this profession.  Grace is at the top of her game and undecided as to what direction to go now. A gig in Las Vegas or a new album and new material.  Maggie, the diligent assistant, really wants to be a music producer and each move she makes is designed to propel her to the top—except she is out of her league and doesn’t know it yet.  There are pitfalls along the way, with Grace getting opinions from long time friends such as her manager, Jack (Ice Cube) and the Caesar’s Palace manager, Alec (Marc Evan Jackson). In the meantime, Maggie is trying to insert her opinions into conversations and manages to be annoying.  Maggie meets a young singer named David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and tells him she is a music producer interested in his career. Eventually, things are too much for Maggie and her life begins to fall apart. Grace has had enough and fires her, so Maggie goes to her father (Bill Pullman) for help.  Is Maggie really in the right business? Do people at the top ever look at those climbing the ladder and see talent? Has Grace reached a plateau with her music?  What to do? 

First of all, the music in “The High Note” is quite good, beginning with Tracee Ellis Ross singing “Bad Girl” and later on, "Love Myself." She has a voice with a straight-forward tone that gets to the heart of the music. Her performance as Grace is authentic and her body language, as in her television series, “Black-ish” speaks volumes. On the other hand, Dakota Johnson, as Maggie, has the opposite personality and one would like to tell her to slow down and calm down. I would have liked to have seen more of the character of David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in the film and his importance is played down. The other actors do well in their roles and one can always recognize Ice Cube. 

“The High Note” is a another look at the music industry and the decisions to be made in maintaining a career, beginning a career and finding the right people to help you along the way. It is about decisions and sometimes if you falter you can wreak havoc and sometimes if it is a snap decision, it can wreak havoc, too.  In other words, the music industry is a tightrope over Niagara and not for the faint-hearted. 


Copyright 2020 Marie Asner