Nearly one and a half years after the much talked about Late Night premiered at Sundance, director Nisha Ganatra is back with her latest comedy-drama which, like Late Night, also has two female leads. Based on a script by Flora Greeson, The High Note is a behind-the-scenes look at the music industry through the eyes of personal assistant Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson) and Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), the famous singer for whom she works.

Grace, though, hasn't released new music in years, but she's ready to start a new chapter in her professional career. Of course, there are conflicting ideas regarding the direction she should take – both Grace's record label and her longtime agent, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube), want Grace to consider a Vegas residency. It's an easy and lucrative payday and is a great way to support the upcoming release of Grace's greatest hits concert album.

Maggie, who's an aspiring music producer, thinks Grace still has plenty left in the tank and would rather Grace do what she wants (to record a new album). Despite it being a business arrangement, Maggie and Grace seem to have a relationship that's personal as well as professional. They know each other very well and that makes for a humorous back and forth not unlike that of a mother and daughter.

On the down low, Maggie has begun moonlighting as a producer – her only client being David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), an aspiring singer-songwriter whom she met at a grocery. Maggie is enamored with David's talent and believes she can produce amazing music with him. Maggie's side project will inevitably take away from her responsibilities towards Grace, but half the fun is seeing everything unfold.

Like The Lovebirds, Note is another feature whose wide release (originally May 8, 2020) was scrapped due to the pandemic. It's worth noting that its script was hot property in 2018 and Ross provided her own vocals, so this project stands as both her big screen and singing debut.

Note is well acted - fine performances are provided by Ross, Johnson and Ice Cube; while Harrison Jr. (The Photograph, Waves) is a discovery since he has outstanding music chops to complement his acting.

One of Note's drawbacks is that some of the recent ad campaigns posit Ross as the lead. That's a little misleading because she's, at best, a co-lead. Considering she's the daughter of music royalty, Diana Ross, it's a missed opportunity - it would've been interesting to witness an black female superstar's perspective as she attempts a comeback (Ganatra explored the comeback angle in Late Night, though). This takes away from a potential A Star Is Born plot thread (but just 2 years out from the Bradley Cooper-Lady Gaga vehicle, maybe thoughts were that another film with a similar storyline would hurt its box office potential).

Ross, though, takes advantage of her screen time by drawing inspiration from greats like her mom, Mariah, Whitney, Beyoncé and Aretha to flex like a true diva. Her flashiness is memorable (and necessary).

Despite its light fare (there are no true antagonists - every character is essentially nice) and good intentions, Nisha Ganatra's latest is stuck between being a music-based comeback story, a follow your dreams tale, and a rom-com. The tropes stretch Note in multiple directions and pull away from the things that work, namely Johnson, Ross, Cube and Harrison.

Still, The High Note is a solid feature that's a mixture of Working Girl (don't forget, Dakota Johnson is Melanie Griffith's daughter), The Devil Wears Prada and Pitch Perfect. Note gives off good vibes that borders on the brink of blandness, but it also recognizes the impact of music and the musicians who create it.

3 stars out of 5


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