The High Note

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The High Note
dir Nisha Ganatra
scr Flora Greeson
prd Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
with Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Ice Cube, Bill Pullman, Zoe Chao, June Diane Raphael, Eddie Izzard, Eugene Cordero, Marc Evan Jackson, Jonathan Freeman, Neil Lane, Diplo
release US/UK 29.May.20
20/US Focus 1h53

harrison cube pullman

johnson and ross
Sparky banter makes this comedy watchable, even if it feels overwritten. It's more sassy than funny, relying on knowing observations, and it stretches the underpowered plot beyond the breaking point. Even with real-life elements woven in, this is essentially a feel-good fantasy set in the celebrity world as we imagine it should be. So as mindless fluff with lots of great music, it just about does the trick.
Demanding singer-songwriter Grace (Ross) is at the top of her career, with a glamorous life that includes private jets, pool parties and a staff that includes personal assistant Maggie (Johnson), manager Jack (Cube) and housekeeper Gail (Raphael). As a demanding national tour ends, Maggie longs to step up and produce Grace's new record. But Jack wants to revive the hits in a cash-generating Vegas residency. Meanwhile, Maggie meets sexy-talented musician David (Harrison) in a supermarket and, amid considerable flirtation, talks him into letting her produce his songs, concealing who she really is.
There are no surprises here, as characters and plot points arrive right on cue to provide conflicts as well as revelations. Thankfully, the cast has fun with the rapid-fire sarcasm, gleefully lobbing insults and witticisms at each other. Everyone in this movie is so beautiful, wealthy and talented that it's almost difficult to like them. Even Maggie's ratty old car is a classic. And when the formula kicks in, everything falls apart on schedule. But we never worry because we've been here before.

The actors invest more into the roles than the writer or director, stirring barbed personality into a lazily crowd-pleasing framework. Johnson is steely and straight-talking, bouncing skilfully off Ross' mercurial diva, both drawing astutely on their Hollywood roots to create big characters with strong subtext. Harrison is also excellent as the too-dreamy rising star who already lives in a mansion in the hills. In side roles, Pullman is an enjoyable as Maggie's ex-hippy dad, and Izzard is of course the show-stealer.

There's a strong undercurrent about the commercial pressures on musicians to earn lots of money for companies rather than expressing themselves artistically. And there's also a pointed comment about how only five women over 40 have ever had a No 1 hit, and only one of them was black. But the script prefers to focus on the starry fantasy, with a structured narrative that's never remotely surprising either as a drama or romance. Although in its predictability, it's at least cute and comforting.

cert 12 themes, language 29.May.20

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