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Tracee Ellis Ross Shines as Diva Extraordinaire Grace Davis in ‘The High Note’ – Review

In The High Note, Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is the star that everyone wants to be. With numerous hit songs and albums, and a plethora of Grammy awards to her name, the aging but still uber-famous, Grace needs to find new relevance in a fickle music industry. Something that is constantly being pointed out by her long-time manager, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube). With all of this stress, things become even worse for her already over-worked personal assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson). 

While Maggie works for one of the world’s biggest stars, she dreams of becoming one in her own right. Maggie’s dream is to become a music producer, even mixing some of Grace’s hits in her spare time in the hopes she might be able to show her boss her work one day. Wanting to break into the industry, but unaware of how to do it in a way that wouldn’t seem like she is ditching her boss, Maggie befriends a budding musician named David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and begins a fib that she’s a music producer. Also looking for his big break, David works with Maggie, who now produces David’s tracks.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Dakota Johnson in The High Note (Photo by Glen Wilson – © 2020 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.)

This sends the duo into some romantic territory that Maggie does her best to push away. She doesn’t want David to know that she actually works for superstar Grace Davis and she’s not really a working music producer at all. The lie that started out small was now growing into something bigger, threatening her relationships with both David and Grace. 

Directed by Nisha Ganatra (Late Night), The High Note is somewhat familiar in the story it tells. While it differs from Gantara’s last film in the sense that it focuses on another aspect of the entertainment industry, both films highlight women – one who is a superstar and one who is just as much a star, just behind-the-scenes. Typically films that feature strong women leads can enter territory that has the characters set up for some kind of face-off. However, this is thankfully something that doesn’t happen in The High Note. While it is clear that Grace is certainly the famous one in the pair, Maggie is never jealous of her boss. In fact, she admires her more than words can say and truly wants what is best for her. Also, despite Grace being a diva (and don’t get me wrong, she certainly plays up the part), there is a vulnerability in her character that makes her utterly relatable. 

Ellis Ross truly shines as Grace Davis. She is completely believable as the iconic diva and my only wish is that we saw even more of her. For me, she was the film’s standout, but we, unfortunately, didn’t get to see her enough (in my opinion). However, the time the audience does get to spend with Davis certainly makes for some of the film’s best moments. Whether she is doing a spontaneous raid of her closet to donate the items that no longer spark joy, meeting with various producers in the studio or the back-and-forth between herself and Maggie or Jack, Ellis Ross certainly finds her wheelhouse in Grace’s character. 

Tracee Ellis Ross, Dakota Johnson and Ice Cube in The High Note (Photo by Glen Wilson – © 2020 FOCUS FEATURES LLC.)

In addition to the greatness of Ellis Ross as Grace Davis, we have Johnson and Harrison Jr. as Maggie and David, respectively. The two have chemistry with one another throughout the film and it’s easy to believe their budding love story, as well as their growing relationship as newcomers in the music industry. The pair play off one another well and the scenes the pair share make for some of the film’s most intense. With each character dealing with their own respective trials and tribulations, when all of those come to a head and truths are revealed, it shows both actors’ best moments of the film. 

What I appreciated about The High Note is that the film did its best to showcase the hardships of women in the music industry, especially if you’re a Black woman and on top of this, no longer 20-something. There’s a scene in the film where Grace says, “In this history of music, only five women over 40 have ever had a number one hit, and only one of them was Black.” It showed that the disparity and inequity are easily found throughout many industries in the world and while it was an element of the film that was explored in more depth, I did welcome the fact that this was something that was talked about in the movie. 

Coupling moments of levity, humour and vulnerability with ease, The High Note is definitely a film that deserves a watch during this time of quarantine. The High Note is available on premium VOD this Friday. Be sure to check it out! 

Watch Tracee Ellis Ross in the official music video for “Love Myself” from the movie right here and listen to the official playlist now!

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