Released: 24th September
Seen: 30th September
So, we’re approaching the final quarter of the year. The home stretch. The time when the fat lady starts warming up so she can hit the high note. The point when everyone should have started working on the “Good Fucking Riddance 2020” banners that we will all be hanging up because this year has been, to quote Jake Tapper, a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck. This has definitely been reflected in what has been available at the cinema.
Movies this year have just been kind of average at their best and disastrous at their worst. It’s hard to really get enthused for what’s going to come out because most movies are that same level of “Fine”. We aren’t getting any blockbusters this year, no superhero films, nothing that’s going to get the blood pumping. Hell, the last film I was personally excited about going to see was Onward way back in March, that’s how barren this year has felt. We’re slowly heading to the finish line of the year and all the films are just barely above ‘fine’ because they’re saving the great stuff for when they know we can get out to see it and we’re left with the stuff that’s so mundane and average that it would probably be put on the list of things to not bother writing about in any other year… anyway let’s talk about The High Note.
The High Note is a workplace comedy about an assistant named Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson) who works for a famous singer named Grace Davis (Tracee Elis Ross). For three years now Maggie has been getting Grace’s water and helping her with day to day chores and after all that Maggie just wants the chance to be a producer, not like a Bialystock and Bloom producer but one who mixes Grace’s new album. Of course, as she’s reminded by Grace’s manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube), she can’t just become a producer and so a series of shenanigans ensue that also include a relationship with a man named David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) who happens to be something of a singer himself.
For this kind of movie to be in any way interesting it relies on a cast that’s able to stand out from the material, and at least one of the stars of this film does that. The High Note is basically a showcase for Tracee Elis Ross’ immense talent and it does that well. It shows her gliding from scene to scene, getting all the good jokes and even belting out a few songs, proving that she should probably be in a lot more films than she has been in because she’s absolutely incredible whenever she’s on screen… and then there are other people on the cast list who are there and who took up screen space.
I’m not saying anyone was bad, in fact everyone was quite serviceable. Dakota Johnson in particular was quite likeable during the movie and when Eddie Izzard popped up for his brief scene it was at least something happening but… most of the time everything just felt like it was on autopilot. We have the scene where Grace stands up for herself, now it’s time for her to plan something big, now it’s the time for a lie Grace told to be revealed, now she moves home because everything failed, cue the dramatic realisation that she had it in her all along accompanied by another cast member turning up somewhere unexpected, you can call every single moment without even trying and while it’s not actively painful it’s just… there.
You can almost see where there was some potential here, the moments where there are real jokes work wonderfully. Ice Cube keeps throwing out little lines that got a good laugh and of course Tracee Elis Ross makes even the bad jokes work but for large chunks of time it’s almost like this film is so stuck on being a serious drama that it refuses to let loose and embrace the comedic elements that actually work and give it a personality. Everyone involved here has great comic timing and when they get to use it, The High Note is engaging… but then we go back to the boring parts where everyone is dead serious and it’s just not engaging.
The High Note is the kind of movie that probably belongs on VOD where you can just have it on in the background and enjoy the few scenes where Tracee Ellis Ross is being a pure delight… I of course saw it on a cinema screen several months after it was already on VOD in the states because for some reason it was essential to put in theatres outside of the US. It’s not bad, it’s about as fine as it could be but you can see where greatness is possible and I wish more than anything that they’d taken it to the great place it could’ve gone.