My Two Cents: “The High Note”

A rom-com movie “The High Note,” directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by Flora Greeson, debuted through different streaming platforms in May of 2020 due to theaters being closed. 

The movie follows super-star singer Grace Davis, played by Tracee Ellis Ross, and personal assistant Maggie Sherwoode, played by Dakota Johnson. The pair has to make decisions that could severely alter both of their career paths.

“The High Note” draws a parallel to all of the tropes following an aspiring assistant with loftier career goals and their difficult, famous and high-strung boss. However, the movie develops the characters in a way that makes viewers root for and cringe with Davis and Sherwoode, and the fact that two women are trying to keep and make a name for themselves in the entertainment industry.

Although this movie is a story told time and time again, there is something about the plot that makes you root for the characters, even if they are averse to taking any sort of chance on themselves and others.

We also meet David Cliff (Kelvin Harris Jr.) while Sherwoode is shopping, the two character’s witty banter is endearing as they both spit off facts about music and songs relating to California. We soon find out that Cliff is a talented singer, and Sherwoode makes it her mission to be his producer while trying to keep business professional with the sweet soul singer.

Throughout the movie, we see Sherwoode being pulled in two different directions with her love for “The Grace Davis,” which comes from a bond her dead mother and her shared, and a passion for producing music, which came from working for Davis. 

As you hope for Sherwoode to make a name for herself, it is hard to agree with some of her methods when it seems she doesn’t either. The relationship between Davis and Sherwoode becomes strained when Sherwoode knowingly oversteps a boundary by producing her own version of Davis’s next album. 

Sherwoode’s talent was recognized by Davis, but was soon pushed aside when the record label shot down a “Grace Davis Live Album Tour.”

A heated conversation in the women’s bathroom of Davis’s music label shows how difficult the entertainment industry can be for older Black women. Davis makes the statement, “In the history of music, only five women over 40 have ever had a #1 hit. And only one of them was black. Do you understand that? No.” 

According to an article by Vulture, “In reality, there were two black women over 40 with No. 1’s on the Billboard Hot 100 around the time the script for The High Note was written: Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner.” Although the facts might not have been perfectly accurate, it still draws attention to how music artists, especially women, are treated once they hit their so-called “age retirement.”

The message is clear and good, but it feels half-hearted because it was between two women in a bathroom — not a board room full of men trying to tell Davis what she can and can’t do. There is an underlying message about women in the entertainment industry but is consistently underdeveloped during the movie.

Both, Bill Pullman and Eddie Izzard had more worth in their “five minutes of fame” during the almost two hours of the movie where we were bestowed words of wisdom and genuine love for music and growth. 
“The High Note” is a good movie, which I will add to my ever-growing list of comfort movies, with an even better soundtrack (“Track 8” holds a special place in my heart) that dives into love and the challenges that come with life, work and the entertainment industry.

[Photo of Taylor Rico-Pekerol]
Graphic by Sarah Schmid | The Arbiter

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