Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) has had an amazing 25-year singing career, winning 11 Grammys, having numerous chart-topping hits, and her image gracing the covers of many magazines. She still makes many Best Artist lists, despite not having released any new material in the past decade. Grace is currently on tour to record material for her upcoming live greatest hits album. Her manager, Jack (Ice Cube), has been with Grace for a long time, and has been working to arrange a Las Vegas residency for her, where Grace wouldn’t have to travel and could just take it easy, singing all of her hits. While this would be a nice, lucrative deal, Grace sees it more like retirement. Deep down, she really wants to write and perform some new songs, but has been scared after her last original album didn’t do as well as she had hoped.
Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson) has been Grace’s personal assistant for the past three years, and she loves her job. Grace can be a bit demanding, but Maggie has gotten used to her eccentricities. Maggie grew up listening to Grace’s music, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything R&B. She has always been in awe of Grace, looking up to her as a mentor. Recently Maggie started dabbling into to music production, a secret passion of hers, and has been working on her own version of a track for Grace’s upcoming live album. She would love to produce the album, but doesn’t want to overstep her bounds, and struggles to find the courage to present her work to Grace and ask for the position. Meanwhile, Maggie meets talented musician David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who’s completely charming, but a bit insecure and self-sabotaging with his career. After Maggie offers to help produce David’s album as a way to prove herself, she struggles to juggle her responsibilities for Grace as well as her new extracurricular activities—both personally and professionally—with David.
The High Note follows the stories of these two women—one who’s at the start of her career and trying to prove herself, and another who’s already at the top and doesn’t know what to do next. Both women are at a crossroads in their careers, looking for the courage and inspiration to make the next big leap. For Grace, it’s a question of should she put herself out there, try some new material and possibly fail, or just take the easy road and “retire” to Vegas? Despite being in the public eye, Grace is a very private person, and chose her career over family and a personal life a long time ago. Was that sacrifice and all those lonely years worth it just to retire now?!
With Maggie, she knows she has found a new affinity and talent for music production, but does she risk her current dream job with a mentor that she loves to pursue it? And what if a star she looks up to, like Grace Davis, says that she doesn’t have the talent to be a music producer? As she struggles over these major life problems, Kate’s roommate/best friend Kate (Zoë Chao) is there to help calm her down and give her a reality check, reminding Maggie that she is literally dealing with matters of life and death as a heart surgeon.
The High Note is a delightful mix of music, drama, and lots of humor. At the core of the film is the drama that’s going on in these two women’s lives, and their relationship with one another. Maggie lost her mother at a young age, and Grace has become someone to look up to, and like a surrogate mother for her. Meanwhile, Maggie has become like a daughter to Grace, and the only person who will tell her like it is. The lead actresses have such great chemistry with one another, and there are so many hilarious moments between them—I found myself constantly smiling or laughing out loud whenever Maggie and Grace were together on screen. A scene could start off heavily dramatic, but have you laughing by the end, or laughter may turn to tears as emotions run high with the characters. In addition to the leads, there are also some really fun supporting characters, including Maggie’s best friend Kate, Grace’s grumpy manager Jack, Maggie’s father Max (Bill Pullman), Grace’s over-the-top house manager Gail (June Diane Raphael), eccentric music star Dan Deakins (Eddie Izzard), and obnoxious music producer Richie Williams (Diplo).
I had never put two-and-two together—that Tracee Ellis Ross is actually the daughter of music legend Diana Ross—but the pipes definitely run in the family. Grace Davis’ musical numbers in the film are excellent—Ross could easily be a professional singer like her mother. And the other original songs, performed by the David Cliff character, are also really well done. In addition to the great chemistry between Grace and Maggie, Dakota Johnson and Kelvin Harrison Jr. make the connection between Maggie and David feel genuine and palpable. The High Note delivers some interesting and entertaining characters, lots of laughs, and some great original music.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment provided access to a screener of the film and bonus material, so I can’t really comment on the sound and picture quality of the retail digital release. The selection of bonus material (which may vary by provider) is quite entertaining. The highlight for me was the 27 minutes of deleted/extended scenes—there is so much funny material in there, including lots of alternate joke takes. It must have been tough to edit this film down and lose some of these scenes! The release also includes a music video for David and Grace’s duet “Like I Do”, a fake 4-minute documentary on Grace Davis’ career, and a 5-minute cast and crew featurette.
Audio/Video specs and availability/selection of bonus content varies by digital provider.
- 2160p / Widescreen 2.39:1
- Dolby Vision / HDR
- Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Dolby Digital 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
- Movies Anywhere compatible
Please check details on retailer site before purchase—at the time of this review, the bonus material was still not listed on any of the digital retailer sites, despite being mentioned in the press release.
- Deleted Scenes (27:21)
Collection of 22 deleted/extended scenes and alternate takes. Scenes include:
- “So It’s Water”
Extended version of sequence where Maggie is doing a series of errands for Grace.
- “Someone Should Clean That Up”
Gracie hosts a children’s birthday party. Includes lots of alternate joke takes between Gail and Jack.
- “I’m a Doctor. That’s Not a Thing”
Katie gives Maggie a hard time for not asking Grace if she can produce her album.
- “Does this SUV have a Spit Bucket”
Maggie and Grace talk about her social media posts while driving in an SUV. Includes lots of alternate joke takes with Grace reacting to drinking the green “water”.
- “We’re Not Gonna Rehearse, Are We?”
Dan Deakins and Grace are supposed to be rehearsing for their label benefit, but instead get to talking about how she hasn’t released much lately.
- “Hallway Acoustics”
Grace and her backup singers sing while walking down the hallway to their performance.
- “Vocal Warmup”
Grace and her backup singers warm up on stage during a rehearsal.
- “Just You Jimmy”
Grace asks her trombone player to play during her warmup.
- “Women in Comfortable Shoes”
Jack cracks a joke with some clients, but Maggie has heard it a million times.
- “What Are You Guys Eating?”
Maggie arrives at the house to find Gail and Grace laying on the couch eating fast food.
- “Do I Look Like The Pool Guy?”
Extended version of the scene where Gail gives Maggie job advice by the pool.
- “Know Just The Drummer”
Maggie asks the drummer at Grace’s recording session for a favor.
- “Who is This?”
Various takes of Maggie calling David to tell him she can be his producer.
- “Late-night Song Writing”
Maggie plays the piano as David sings.
- “You Wanna Come?”
Grace is headed to the label meeting and asks Maggie if she wants to join her.
- “The Doors Won’t Shut Themselves”
Grace and Maggie return from the label meeting and there is lots of slamming of doors.
- “Are There Lighter Weights?”
Extended version of the scene where Maggie talks about the problems with the release party, as Grace works out in her gym.
- “I Don’t Have Anywhere Else to Be”
Max asks Maggie to take over his radio timeslot.
- “Don’t Look At My Mum Like That”
Max and David talk about Grace’s albums, and her “availability”.
- “If I Talk I’ll Cry”
Maggie smiles watching Grace’s new assistant at work.
- “I Knew She Hat To be Nice”
Katie has a picnic by herself with a gift basket from Adele.
- “I Knew She Hat To be Nice V2”
Katie reads more of the apology note from Adele.
- “So It’s Water”
- The Dream Team: Inside the Creation of The High Note (5:15)
The cast and filmmakers talk about working with a female director and writer, putting together the music for the film, the characters, casting Tracee Ellis Ross before they knew if she could sing, the wardrobe, and more. Includes behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with director Nisha Ganatra, writer Flora Greeson, costume designer Jenny Eagan, and stars Tracee Ellis Ross, Dakota Johnson, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Zoë Chao, and Ice Cube.
- Making A Legend: The Grace Davis Story (4:04)
A fake documentary about the life of Grace Davis and her 25 year career. Includes in-character interviews with Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson), Dr. Katie Lynn (Zoë Chao), manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube), producer Richie Williams (Diplo), director Nisha Ganatra, singer/songwriter David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), and music legend Dan Deakins (Eddie Izzard).
- Like I Do: Original Song Music Video (3:08)
Music video for the final song of the film, “Like I Do”, by David Cliff (feat. Grace Davis), Live at The Ford. Includes film footage from the performance scene as well as other clips and behind-the-scenes footage.
The High Note is a thoroughly entertaining comedy with some excellent musical performances and interesting character drama. Leads Tracee Ellis Ross and Dakota Johnson have such great chemistry and were a delight together on screen. Universal’s release also includes about 40 minutes of bonus material, including some hilarious deleted/extended scenes (bonus content may vary by provider). The film is definitely worth checking out, especially now that it is available to own and not just rent.