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The High Note is a High Hit: Movie Review

Photo: Universal Pictures
The High Note is a High Hit: Movie Review
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About the Author

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins has been a reporter with Oakville News since 2016. Covering local news and live events, he specializes in film, theatre, and entertainment. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. Tyler is a proud graduate of Journalism and Performing Arts from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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After months of average PVOD releases, The High Note finally brings some happiness to the home market. Few dramas find a way to be both entertaining and maintain dramatic integrity, but that note is the highest.

Director Nisha Ganatra has made the best movie of her mostly unknown career, but like fictional pop icon Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), she sings. What’s most interesting is it’s not about the singers – it’s about the producers and assistants.

Maggie (Dakota Johnson) has served as errand girl for Grace Davis the last three years. But after she secretly mixes a track for her boss and meets a street singer with potential, she shifts gears. Maggie now has a chance to kick-start her own career as a music producer. If she can can convince her new clients to give her a shot, that is.

Peeling behind the curtain is an outstanding angle for a music drama, and having Maggie as the focus grounds the story. There’s great drama and humanity in what could have been another film about celebrity without charm.

Instead, it’s sharp.

Dakota Johnson’s Maggie is the best performance of her career. Most audiences may know her from the divisively silly Fifty Shades franchise. But there’s nothing divide or silly about what she’s doing here – Johnson is smart, bright and coolly cunning.

Photo: Universal Pictures

Photo: Universal Pictures

She’s also surrounded by a great cast of principals. Ellis Ross is a terrific diva, Zoe Chao a great best friend, and Ice Cube shows years of gravity as the macho manager. Kelvin Harrison Jr. (last year’s Luce and Waves) doesn’t get to do much as an undiscovered talent, but he’s equally compelling.

One thing the whole cast does really well is act while they’re singing. This is a quality of character and conflict that often gets missed in film, especially when it is not a traditional musical. But even when songs come back, the performance changes as the story does too.

The quality of the soundtrack, both diagetic and not, are phenomenal. Throw in a slew of dynamite cameos and the balance of dramatic heft with entertainment is terrific. Marc Evan Jackson and Bill Pullman are both endearing and funny, but Eddie Izzard turns out a total scene-stealer.

Ganatra has improved from her first mainstream film, last summer’s Late Night. That movie was funny and tried to be too serious. And yes, there is one, small unnecessary twist. But she’s learned how to find the natural humour in drama, and it works much better here.

The High Note is less of a musical drama and more a drama about music. Its goal isn’t to hit a high note specifically, but it hits a lot of the right ones.

The High Note

8 out of 10
PG, 1hr 53mins. Comedy Musical Drama.
Directed by Nisha Ganatra.
Starring Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Ice Cube, Zoë Chao and Bill Pullman.
Now available for Rental on PVOD and various services.

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