[Screen It]


(2020) (Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross) (PG-13)

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Drama: The personal assistant to a demanding diva-singer hopes to produce a young talent she's discovered.

For the past three years, Maggie Sherwoode (DAKOTA JOHNSON) has worked as the personal assistant to Grace Davis (TRACEE ELLIS ROSS), an eleven-time Grammy-winning singer who's known worldwide, but hasn't had a new record in the past decade. While Maggie tends to Grace's personal needs and house manager Gail (JUNE DIANE RAPHAEL) handles her property, Grace's long-time music manager, Jack Robertson (ICE CUBE), wants her to sign on for a residency in Vegas and thus make "easy" cash without having to tour around the world.

A wannabe producer, Maggie -- who lives with her roommate, Katie (ZOE CHAO) -- would love to help Grace put out a new album but has to settle on singer-songwriter David Cliff (KELVIN HARRISON, JR.) who she meets by chance one day. Not telling him who she works for or that she's brand new at being a producer, Maggie convinces David to work with her cutting an album. But as she tries to do that in her off-time, that and a budding relationship with David mean that her job working for Grace might be up in the air.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

I'll admit I know next to nothing about fashion rules. That is, except for something about not mixing stripes and plaid and not to wear white after Labor Day. I get the first one from a too-busy standpoint, but not the latter. Was that rule created by people who live in far northern climes so that you don't disappear in the snow? In any event, I'm certainly not the person to give out fashion advice.

That is, except that one shouldn't wear a long train on their dress if that's going to be worn to a crowded event featuring lots of tables, chairs, and people mingling. Yes, royal weddings are fine or any other event where either the train is detachable or you have assistants trailing behind you to keep things flowing. Otherwise, it's a big no-no. I say this from personal experience, not as someone who's ever worn one, but rather as someone who's stepped on such a train.

The "why would you wear a train to a packed award show" question crossed my mind the split second after unknowingly stepping on the long one attached to a dress and then seeing the woman near me lurch backward from the sudden stoppage of her forward momentum. But before I could even consider a funny way of saying something along those lines, Tracee Ellis Ross turned and shot me a look like she was going to kill me. Not surprisingly, I said nothing but a sheepish "sorry" as that glance definitely put me in my place.

I bring all of that up not as a warning about fashion per se or watching where you step, but instead that I could feel and understand the belittlement of the protagonist of "The High Note" whenever the personal assistant received similar looks from her world-famous singer employer played by -- yes, you guessed it -- none other than Ms. Ross. Despite that kindred spirit and my award show faux pas, I thoroughly enjoyed this highly entertaining and glossy if formulaic and mostly predictable offering.

No stranger to the world of diva performers -- after all, her mom is the legendary Diana Ross -- Tracee plays Grace Davis, a world-renowned singer with eleven Grammy wins and more than enough goodwill to allow her to coast through the rest of her performing career.

At least that's what her manager (Ice Cube) believes as he wants her to agree to a contractual Vegas residency meaning no touring and easy money (at least on his part). But deep down Grace likes to tour, even if she hasn't released anything new in around a decade and is fully aware of the odds against a middle-aged woman of color putting out a new hit.

That's not lost on the aforementioned personal assistant, Maggie Sherwoode (a winning Dakota Johnson) who, when not answering to the diva's every whim, longs to be a music producer and has secretly remixed one of her boss' songs. While Cube's territorial character is not impressed, Ross' mercurial one is, and things look up even more for Maggie when she happens to meet David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) a singer-songwriter with impressive chops who she manages to convince -- with the help of some bluffing in terms of her resume -- to allow her to produce him.

Notwithstanding a plot twist I'll admit I didn't see coming, the film plays out pretty much exactly how you imagine it will as the protagonist grows in confidence and accomplishment both on the professional and personal sides of her life, only to end up being knocked down a peg or two and put back in her place in the third act, only to experience redemption before the end credits roll. Yes, it's pure formulaic storytelling.

Yet it's done in such an appealing, appetizing and enjoyable way that most viewers won't care one bit. I certainly didn't and enjoyed the nearly two-hour film from start to finish, even while remembering the near horrific train accident between me and Ms. Ross. Hitting all of the necessary notes, "The High Note" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 8, 2020 / Posted May 29, 2020

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