Welcome to the feel-good movie of the summer. Tracee Ellis Ross (“black-ish”) plays superstar pop singer Grace Davis who’s at the stage in her career that finds most aging artists doing a Vegas residency to cash in on the success of their past hits.
That’s exactly what manager Jack (Ice Cube) has in mind for his star client but Grace’s personal assistant Maggie (Dakota Johnson) believes that her boss should put out a new album and let her produce it. “The High Note” delivers laughs, a bevy of catchy original songs produced by Grammy Award-winner Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, and enough entertainment to help you forget about the world’s problems for at least 113 minutes.
Considering that her mother is Diana Ross, it’s surprising that this is the first time Tracee Ellis Ross sings publicly. The 47-year-old actress who is best known for “Girlfriends” and “black-ish” is a natural as she belts out catchy hooks in the empowering anthem “Love Myself” and the bouncy “Stop For A Minute.” We even get to hear actor Kelvin Harrison Jr. cover songs by Al Green, Phantom Planet, and Sam Cooke ‘s “You Send Me” with the Darkchild Mix doing it for me as the song slows down and the guitar becomes more prominent.
The film opens with a quick Grace Davis montage showcasing her career of chart-topping hits and glamorous photoshoots. She’s a diva and rightfully so as her records continue to sell despite a decade-long absence of new material.
Maggie, her personal assistant, grew up listening to Grace thanks to her radio DJ father (a good Bill Pullman cameo) and even though she’s been fetching this and that and scheduling appointments for Grace over the last three years, her real passion is to one day become a music producer. To prove that she’s up for the job, Maggie sneaks into a studio after hours to remix Grace’s live album. She’s also convinced that Grace should release a new album after discovering that her superstar boss has been writing songs.
Dakota Johnson has been on an upward trajectory after breaking free of those awful “50 Shades” films to deliver solid performances in “Bad Times at the El Royale,” “Suspiria” and “The Peanut Butter Falcon.” She balances out “The High Note” as the meek assistant to Ross’s vibrant Grace. But Maggie is much more than an assistant, she’s actually an extension of Grace who knows her boss inside and out.
The film already has this great chemistry between Ross and Johnson but once you add Ice Cube to the mix, the entertainment quota goes up as the veteran rapper-turned-actor uses his signature gruff temperament to play Grace’s manager Jack. He’s been with Grace from the start and while she credits her voice for her success, Jack insists that he helped her acquire the private jet and fancy home.
Jack wants to play it safe and “stack some money” so he pushes Grace to take the Vegas residency gig but she hits back “I will decide what I do next” as Maggie continues to try and convince Grace to put out an album of new material.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays a striving musician named David who runs into Maggie at the grocery store. He flirts, they get into a discussion about songs featuring the word California, and a debate over the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” He’s actually performing in the store’s parking lot and when Maggie hears him serenade her with Sam Cooke, she decides to take him on as her first client offering to produce his record.
“The High Note” provides a great escape from all the crazy things happening in the world right now. It’s not as dramatic as “A Star is Born” or as romantic as “Once” but it’s very entertaining with a great cast and good original songs. I would compare it to John Carney’s “Begin Again” with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. Both films put you in a great mood and leave impressionable songs in your head that you’ll be singing for days.