Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn, Fast Food High, Cake, Last Night) directs this screenplay by Flora Greeson about superstar singer Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) and her overworked personal assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), who dreams of being a music producer. (113 min)
Glen First of all, oh my God it feels great to watch a new first-run film! It's been 12 weeks since we've been to the theater, with no return in sight. When I saw the advertisement for The High Note, I impulse-ordered it out of desperation to see a new theater-worthy film, and it didn't disappoint. This is a funny and poignant story of a venerated singer who's fallen into a rut. Grace knows that historically a black woman older than 40 doesn't make new hits. Her best option may be to take a residency in Vegas where she can churn out the same show night after night for the next several years. It's a fate she wants to avoid, but she's lost faith in herself. The film's exploration of race, gender, and age feels real. Meanwhile, Maggie represents the impossible odds of breaking into the business as a producer, which is often a male role. She hopes and dreams Grace will give her a shot, but Grace is a self-involved monster! She's so demanding of Maggie that it's unimaginable she doesn't walk off the job on any given day. Maggie's dream to produce eventually brings her to David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a gifted writer and singer who makes a play for Maggie in a grocery store. With a gorgeously filmed LA as a backdrop, the story moves to a surprising conclusion that admittedly wraps itself into too neat a bow, but considering this is feel-good fairy tale, it's a forgivable dollop of treacle.
Anna I say pile on all the feel-good films you can right now; we all need a little pep in our step after months of isolation! This charming and funny flick is just the right blend of sappy sweet goodness and quick-witted banter. Maggie has a vision for her life but no one to take her seriously. She's been Grace's personal assistant for three years now, and there looks to be no hope of it taking her anywhere except to pick up the superstar's dry cleaning. Grace is a total terror—über demanding and prone to gigantic mood swings, and she expects Maggie to be at her beck and call 24/7. When she's not working her ass off to make Grace's life run smoothly, Maggie is at home working at remixing and revamping music she's pretty sure no one will ever actually hear. One thing I can say, this woman doesn't shy away from taking a leap—when she gets a chance to show off her skills, she runs with it. While inevitably that means she will crash and burn sometimes, it also leaves her a glimmer of hope for the road ahead and her dream of breaking into the business. Watching this was a great way to spend the afternoon, and it just left me feeling good, which I so needed.
Glen It is very funny, in part because of Grace's house manager, Gail (June Diana Raphael), a lazy, vapid jerk who's in it for the easy life in Grace's pool house and her designer hand-me-downs. Then there's Maggie's roommate, Katie (Zoe Chao), a brash bestie willing to kick Maggie in the butt when she's down. Add in Grace's surly manager, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube), and a cadre of shallow, banal music industry flacks, and there are plenty of people to sneer at. Much of the film's heart comes from Maggie's single dad, Max (Bill Pullman), a radio DJ who instilled in his daughter both a love of music and an encyclopedic knowledge of it, and Dan Deakins (Eddie Izzard), another music star in the twilight of his career who unlike Grace is willing to help Maggie. This is a recipe for a real crowd pleaser. Oh, and Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays Grace, is Diana Ross' daughter singing publicly for the first time. Well worth the $20, which is about matinee price for two.
Anna I'll definitely be down for watching new releases on the home screen as we wait out COVID-19. While I still prefer the dark ambience of a big theater, it was a welcome treat. Both Ross and Harrison have some serious pipes, and the film boasts a great soundtrack. Johnson was great as Maggie—a bit flustered and fumbling, but cool, calm, and collected when she needs to be. Between the blossoming romance with Maggie and David and the antics of a richer-than-God superstar diva, this movie has a little something for everyone. I agree, I think this is a great matinee-priced movie—it's a little cheesy and somewhat silly, but I had fun watching it, and it brought a smile to my face in the end. Check it out when you need a dose of cute. Δ
Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.