Feldman @ the flicks

The High Note

Peter Feldman: The High Note is an entertaining romantic drama about the LA music industry and although it often strikes the right notes it’s not a smash hit.

The High Note
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Ice Cube, Bill Pullman, Zoë Chao
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Classification: 13 DL
Rating: 3/5

The High Note often strikes the right notes in its emotional journey but is far too formulaic to be considered a smash hit.

Directed by Nisha Ganatra, from a story by Flora Greeson, the production throws a spotlight on the LA music industry (again), the players who make it tick, including an arrogant diva, and the fierce ambitions of a young woman whose dream is to become a record producer.

Driven by an entertaining soundtrack, The High Note is attractive and stylish, but too lengthy in its execution, too contrived in its telling and too many stereotypical characters.

Dakota Johnson, who rose to screen prominence in the 50 Shades of Grey series, is the binding factor as Maggie Sherwoode, a young woman who grew up on music, thanks to her DJ father Max (Bill Pullman), and is something of a musical encyclopaedia.

Daily she slaves away as the long-time personal assistant to legendary R&B singer Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) who still has a successful touring career despite not having released new material for a decade.

The unflappable Maggie has a full day taking care of the numerous whims of this annoying, self-absorbed artist. Secretly, though, she yearns to become a record producer, having gained experience by remixing Grace’s songs in her spare time.

Grace’s arrogant, foul-mouthed manager, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube), believes that his client’s time has passed and she should accept a residency in Las Vegas and continue to release live albums rather than record new material.

Maggie’s life changes when she meets aspiring musician, David Cliff (Kevin Harrison Jr), and watches him perform outdoors. Impressed by his voice, she lies about being a professional producer and offers to work with him on an album. He accepts and the two begin working together with Maggie coaching him through his nerves. Grace is kept in the dark.

The narrative splits into two: Maggie’s relentless ambition to produce and Grace who is re-thinking her career moves. The challenge here, however, is that The High Note cannot decide whether it’s a drama about the music industry or a chase-your-dreams fairy tale.

Canadian-American director Nisha Ganatra stretches the story out but manages, in the process, to extract two nicely judged performances from both Johnson and Ross – even though their characters are somewhat clichéd entities.

Overall, though, it’s a feel-good movie that comes just at the right time as we move into Level 1 of the lockdown.

Twitter: @petersdfeldman_
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Peter Feldman has been a journalist and arts critic for almost 50 years and served on The Star in various capacities for 35 years, ending up as a specialist writer on films, music and theatre. During that time, he travelled extensively on assignments and interviewed many international film and pop stars, both in South Africa and overseas. He also covered some of South Africa’s biggest film and musical events. He was one of only two South African journalists to be invited by Steven Spielberg to the Hook film junket in LA in 1991 where he interviewed the famous director as well as Dustin Hoffman and the late Robin Williams. He attended the gala James Bond premiere in London in 1981 and did an iconic interview in a Rolls Royce with Roger Moore who played Bond. He spent a week touring England with Queen prior to their Sun City visit in 1983, interviewed a host of international stars on films sets in Hollywood and London and was the first local journalist to nail an interview with The Rolling Stones prior to their SA visit in 1995. He is active in the freelance field and his work has appeared in a variety of South African newspapers and magazines, including Artslink.co.za. He has also worked on TV and radio (ChaiFM 101.9) in his specialist capacity. Over the years Feldman has been the recipient of several awards for his contribution to music journalism and the SA record industry. He is a recent recipient of the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz award in recognition for his long-standing journalistic support for the arts. He wrote lyrics for some top artists, including Sipho Mabuse, and had a hit disco single, “Video Games,” which was released in 1988. He coined the phrase “Local is Lekker”.
Related Venues:
Nu Metro Cinemas / Cinema Prive, South AfricaSter Kinekor Cinemas / Cinema Nouveau, South Africa