The High Note (2020)

The High Note (2020)

Directed by: Nisha Ganatra. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: May 29, 2020.

In Los Angeles, a personal assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), working for music superstar Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), follows her dreams of being a producer when she meets singer David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and gives him the impression she’s an established producer with connections.

That’s the best I could come up with as far as a synopsis for this film goes, as for much of it felt kind-of plotless until Maggie met David. A lot of it is a personal assistant working for a superstar who’s struggling with her age, and then it leans into romantic drama when Maggie meets David.

Their relationship felt like the heart of the film as Dakota Johnson and Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s chemistry was strong. Johnson plays the role as well as she usually does, and there’s nothing really new in her performance, but Johnson is why this worked for me at times. Harrison Jr. is good, too, there’s just nothing special about his performance, except the fact that his singing is solid and enjoyable.

About Tracee Ellis Ross, I haven’t seen enough of her to really create an opinion yet, but I wasn’t a big fan of this performance and that was mostly because I didn’t like the character – she’s a prima donna that’s too often unlikable, but her singing is fine. I liked her once we got to know her more, and a main plot point of her manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) pressuring her to take a Las Vegas residency was fine. It was interesting because Maggie wants her to take risks and encourage her not to play it safe, and safe would be the residency doing the same thing every night.

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Tracee Ellis Ross, Dakota Johnson and Ice Cube in The High Note.

I did like the dynamic occasionally between Maggie and Grace, and I really liked the sub-plot of Maggie working on one of Grace’s old albums to make it have a new sound. That was the most interesting part about Maggie’s character to me – her music knowledge. She’s like an encyclopedia, as Grace calls her, and her knowledge of music and her passion for it is inspiring and Johnson plays that side well. She’s a dreamer and she’s following her ambitions; but it still feels one-note and isn’t enough to create a truly great character.

About Grace’s old music: Everyone loves her music, but they don’t want anything new. It’s explained that her last album sold poorly and that’s why her manager Jack – Ice Cube is fine but has so little to do – is adamant about the residency. The logic of no one wanting new music just doesn’t make sense to me, here. Grace Davis is still doing tours and has her billboards up all over, she still seems like a big deal, still selling out venues. Why wouldn’t these fans buy a new album? Part of the story is finding that passion to want to release new music again, but I couldn’t buy that her album wouldn’t sell well when we’re shown that she is such a big deal.

It’s interesting learning a bit more about the role of a music producer, and I enjoyed all the musical aspects of this. The drama of this is just so flat and just lifeless at times, as this just goes through the motions and never really gets going, and I couldn’t really even tell where the story was going for much of the film. That’s not to say that this is due to an unpredictably to the film – more so that it just felt so unfocused and was trying to do a lot of things at once, while also feeling like nothing of substance was happening. This is made worse by the fact that this feels overlong at 113 minutes, and if this were 90 minutes and more focused, it would be much more enjoyable.

I say that because after the classic break-up conflict, the film finally hits its stride in the last 25-30 minutes. It felt lively as it hit the emotional heart of its story, and finally found its voice. The message of fixing regrets and showing that risks are integral to following your dreams was fine. The third act finally had a couple (predictable) surprises up its sleeve and the film felt like it finally clicked. I just wasn’t emotionally invested at that point, and it’s a shame it couldn’t find its stride or voice like 45 minutes sooner, because it all felt too little too late.

Score: 50/100

How to Be Single (2016)

How to Be Single (2016)

 

How to Be Single
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Released: February 12, 2016. Directed by: Christian Ditter. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann. Runtime: 1hr 50 min.

Based on Liz Tuccilo’s book of the same name, How to Be Single is a totally mixed bag on tips of living the single life and an occasionally hilarious story.

It concerns Dakota Johnson’s Claire, who right out of college jumped into a relationship with Josh (Nicholas Braun) and being a woman of New York, she wants to try out the single life for a brief spin to know if she truly wants to be with Josh the rest of her life.

When she’s done with her flings with a bartender named Tom (Anders Holm, The Intern), she tries to go back to Josh but he’s found someone else. So now she has to navigate through life with her trusty party hardy sidekick Robin, portrayed by Rebel Wilson, on an adventure in learning that she doesn’t need a man to define who she is as an independent woman.

By no means a terrible film, How to be Single simply suffers from a plaguing lack of comedic momentum, or gaining any, for that matter.

The seriously big laughs only come on occasion without succession, but the sentiment of the picture is still in the right place.

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Rebel Wilson and Dakota Johnson in How to Be Single (Source)

Dakota Johnson is an awkward delight as Alice, where she often charms and rarely bores. Rebel Wilson is a good addition, as well – even though a late storyline feels random. The screenwriters also leave her character out for long periods of time when I was just begging for her comic relief.

A big problem of the film is just how many characters the film thinks it needs to tell its story.

Throughout the film Alice is sexually involved with three men, and we don’t really need that many characters to make her realize she doesn’t need someone to make her happy.

At certain points, when a story-line gets introduced and then continued later, it ends more abruptly than feels at all natural. It just wraps a tiny bow on it and then boom, we’re done with that character.

Alice’s sister, Meg (Leslie Mann) represents the single woman who wants a relationship but is terrified of it. Because… Reasons. She’s a bit frantic and nutty, and forgettable. She seems to be shocked that a young buck, Jake Lacy’s Ken, is attracted to her and she assumes it’s a joke or he just likes the novelty of being with an older woman.

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Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann and Dakota Johnson in How to Be Single. (Source)

She’s frankly more annoying than anything. Her significant other, in turn, is rendered annoying and expendable by association – but admirable for putting up with her insanity.

Alison Brie also makes a frequent appearance, representing the online dating addict. She doesn’t fit into the narrative quite as smoothly as the others, not sharing any dialogue with the three other primary actresses, but she’s fine for her role.

The plot is muddled because of how many characters there are. The cast is attractive and fine as the characters, but the scope of it makes a simplistic premise into something that is needlessly complex. Because of this, it squanders a lot of potential.

It definitely has the laughs intact because of the original novel’s clever humour, but it should retain the simplicity of something like 2014’s That Awkward Moment, but that one forgot the laughs. At least that film knew not to have a huge character list like Valentine’s Day, and kept it simple, stupid.

Instead, we are left with an occasionally funny, run of the mill comedy that says it’s okay to be single.

It can be the best times of your life. The laughs are all there, but it trips over itself too much in an overlong anti-romantic comedy.

2.5 out of 4