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The High Note

Peter Malone MSC  |  21 December 2020

THE HIGH NOTE, US, 2020. Starring Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Bill Pullman, Zoe Chao, Ice Cube, June Diane Raphael, Eddie Izzard.  Directed by Nisha Ganatra.113 minutes, Rated M (Coarse language)

This is a drama about the American music industry. It is not the rock’n’roll industry, nor the hard rock industry, but, rather, the ballad singers who have been popular over the decades even as their style has changed.

Response to the drama may depend on which character the audience identifies with. There are two and, while their lives were intertwined, they belonged to different generations.

The younger, Maggie (Dakota Johnson) is personal assistant to a celebrated singer, for whom she has been at the beck and call for three years, dealing with problems from the trivial to the serious, at all hours. But, she has a DJ father who loves music and she herself has ambitions to be a producer.

The older, Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a veteran singer in her 40s, extraordinarily popular over the decades, recording, touring and performing. She has an assured manner but questions are raised as to what she is to do in this next phase of her life. Maggie is her assistant.

The audiences who identify with Grace, will be interested in career issues, age and change, the popularity of the star and her response to her public, the pressures from her producers, her celebrity and its consequent isolation from the real world and relationships. Her long-time producer, Jack (Ice Cube) wants her to become a resident artist in Las Vegas, thus ensuring her a long-term future. Maggie, whom Jack does not appreciate, is against the Las Vegas option, wanting Grace to venture out with new material and recordings.

Grace is an imperious and dominating figure, drawing attention, not only from the fans who flock to her but from us in the audience. Ross (who is the daughter of Diana Ross) plays Grace powerfully and has a strong singing voice.

Those following Maggie’s story, see her attracted by a singing artist, David (Kelvin Harrison Jr) who is content to sing in stores and play in small bands. Maggie decides she wants to produce his album, persuading him, somewhat reluctantly on his part, to go to recording studios. They also fall in love. When she does get a situation where she can promote him, it falls through, Maggie resigning, Grace unimpressed.

We know that there is going to be happy resolution but it takes its time, Maggie going back to stay with her father (Bill Pullman), David wanting nothing to do with her, Grace eventually coming to make peace (though not apologising). 

And then comes one of the greatest coincidences in contemporary films! No spoilers here, but it helps the final happy resolution to come about more easily than we might have anticipated.

Quite a number of striking songs, two storylines entwined, for American music lovers and those interested in a great deal of detail about how the industry works and its effect on its stars.

Released 3 December
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of Jesuit Media



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