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Film Review: The High Note

Author: Kristina Cooper

Film Review: The High Note

"The High Note" is a film which is out of touch with the current mood, but it could help young people become aware of the futility of a selfish lifestyle, says Kristina Cooper.

With the rumour that  cinemas might be opening again, albeit in a limited capacity in July, some distributors are holding on to their best films till then, in the hope of a cinema release. Others, however, are settling for video on demand to secure an audience. “The High Note”, produced by Working Title, is one of the latter.

The film tells the story of Maggie, a hard-working and ambitious PA (Dakota Johnson) who lives in Los Angeles and who runs errands for a superstar song diva, Grace (played by Diana Ross's daughter Tracee Ellis Ross). Maggie longs to be a music producer and the film shows how she manages to fulfil her dream.

The cast is impressive - Ice Cube, Bill Pullman, Eddie Izzard to name but a few - but unfortunately the film is not. This is sad as it is written by Flora Greeson, a young author who drew on her own experiences in the music business as a PA and whose first film this is. 

Very Little Depth

Unfortunately, the film can't decide if it is a satire on the music business or an aspirational feel-good film-and is consequently a mishmash without much depth. All the characters, including the heroine,  behave appallingly, but the casting and tone is such that we are expected to understand them and even admire them for their “talent” and “ambition”.

Self is the motivation for all decisions and, although there is reconciliation, there is never true repentance or promise of moral growth. Thus the “happy” ending, instead of being heartwarming, leaves a bad taste in your mouth. This is definitely morality lite.

The film feels aimed at the younger market of aspirational teens and twenties, adrift from Christian values, whose lack of maturity means they are susceptible to the influences of the consumer society and the tyranny of facebook likes. I presume the producers felt that this audience would see as aspirational the protagonist who, although treated like dirt by her boss, gets to attend celebrity parties, travel on personal jets, and wear designer hand me downs.

Interesting For A Youth Group Discussion

I found the film crass and the world it portrayed, for all its glitz, not only not aspirational but boring. In that sense, it could be an interesting film for a Christian youth group to watch and discuss; it is an effective portrayal of what happens when people's gifts and talents are used for self-serving and wordly ends. It could be useful to ask young people whether they would really like to live in such a world-however glamorous.

I think the middle-aged men of Working Title felt they had something edgy simply because the heroine wants to be a music producer rather than a model or an actress. Thus, as well as the obligatory bedroom scene with her male discovery, we get to see Maggie as an image of female empowerment, in the studio behind dials authoritatively guiding him in his musical career.

Yet, even using its own frame of reference, I wonder, post-COVID, even among non-Christians, if the message will resonate as the producers hope. I suspect even teens might have moved on in their aspirations of what constitutes the good life. Having realised it is possible to live without shopping or going out, many have discovered new simpler joys and the importance of family and friends, rather than the big career and a jet set lifestyle, however glamorous.  

I sense that TV series such as “The Good Life” and self sufficiency are likely to be more in tune with the current mood than this supposedly motivational film.

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