Arts

Musical dramedy The High Note doesn't quite live up to the promise of its title

Music is the food of love for Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross in director Nisha Ganatra's romantic dramedy The High Note. Damon Smith reviews

Dakota Johnson as Maggie Sherwood, Ice Cube as Jack Robertson and Tracee Ellis Ross as Grace Davis in The High Note
Damon Smith

MUSICAL dreams can come true in The High Note, a light, frothy tale of trouble and strife in the Los Angeles music industry, composed by fierce female talent behind and in front of the camera.

Director Nisha Ganatra, who was on song with the workplace comedy Late Night starring Dame Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, continues to explore gender and racial inequality and ageism through the eyes of a fading starlet (Tracee Ellis Ross) and her long-suffering personal assistant (Dakota Johnson).

There's nothing particularly fresh about the initial dramatic set-up or the characters' tightly entwined stories of creative triumph against adversity and redemption. However, Johnson and Ross – daughter of Motown legend Diana Ross – are an appealing double-act, harmonising sweetly as demanding diva and dogsbody in quickfire verbal exchanges.

Screenwriter Flora Greeson has an ear for amusing dialogue like when Ross' self-absorbed songbird tip toes through a cover version of an apology.

"I may, or may not, have said some things that could have hurt someone's feelings and for that… I forgive myself!" she smiles.

However, the script stumbles with a contrived final act plot revelation, which ultimately auto-tunes a rousing chorus of emotional healing with mawkish sentiment.

For the past three years, Maggie Sherwoode (Johnson) has worked long, thankless hours as personal lackey to egotistical music superstar Grace Davis (Ross). She may have 11 Grammys on the mantelpiece but Grace hasn't released new music for years and long-time manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) is insisting they should rest on fading laurels by agreeing a swansong 10-year residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Maggie, who is a die-hard Grace Davis fan and yearns to be a music producer, silently disagrees and she makes her point by producing a mix of a forthcoming greatest hits live album by her idol. Jack is furious.

"If you want to be a producer, you find your own goddamn clients and stay out of mine!" he seethes.

Maggie tearfully obliges. By day, she is at Grace's fanciful beck and call and by night, Maggie bluffs her way as producer of insecure yet talented singer-songwriter David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison, Jr).

Sparks of attraction fly and Maggie feebly maintains a divide between business and pleasure: "Brian Epstein did not sleep with The Beatles".

The High Note doesn't quite soar to the rafters like the title suggests but Ganatra's handsomely mounted picture entertains consistently between gentle plucks of heartstrings. Comic relief alternates between Zoe Chao as Maggie's flatmate and June Diane Raphael as Grace's housekeeper, who knows her station and gladly keeps to it, reminding Maggie: "I manage the house not the woman that lives inside of it."

A fleeting appearance from a surprisingly serious Eddie Izzard as one of Grace's musical peers feels like a missed opportunity for playfulness.

Rating: 6/10

THE HIGH NOTE (12, 113 mins) Drama/Comedy/Musical/Romance. Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Zoe Chao, June Diane Raphael, Eddie Izzard, Ice Cube. Director: Nisha Ganatra. Released: May 29 (streaming and available to download from Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft Store, PlayStation Store, Sky Store, Virgin Media)

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Arts