A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The High Note is an appealing musical drama about the complex relationship between aging superstar singer Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) and her ambitious personal assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson). A romantic subplot includes implied sex, but no more than kissing/snuggling in underwear is shown. Characters drink in social situations, and one gets comically drunk (she calls someone else to drive her home). Strong language isn't particularly frequent but includes "s--t," "d--k," and more. Grace's high-end life is full of designer labels, including Dior, Louis Vuitton, and others. Maggie dreams of being a music producer -- a profession that still has shockingly few women -- and the film doesn't shy away from the challenges that women face in the music industry, including ageism and sexism (and, in Maggie's case, a really demanding boss). But there are also strong messages about perseverance, loyalty, and female empowerment. Overall, this is a great choice for families with teens.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In THE HIGH NOTE, Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is an aging music sensation who's struggling to stay relevant while remaining true to her artistry. Her young assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson) -- who has her own musical ambitions -- puts herself on the line to help Grace succeed in the next chapter of her career. Ice Cube, Bill Pullman, June Diane Raphael, Eddie Izzard, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. co-star.
Is it any good?
This may be the story of a rock star, but director Nisha Ganatra orchestrates her film as if it's a symphony. Peeking inside a musician's life has always fascinated moviegoers, whether it's the megawatt rise of A Star Is Born, the excesses of Get Him to the Greek, or the ridiculousness of This Is Spinal Tap. With The High Note, we get a funny but personal look at how a well-respected legend navigates keeping public opinion high and money flowing, even when some clearly consider her past her prime. Grace's struggles are seen through Maggie's eyes. Not only Grace's assistant but also a lifelong admirer, Maggie -- like so many aspiring people in entertainment -- is trying to figure out how to get to the next rung in her career ladder while keeping hold of the coattails of someone more successful. The film reeks of authenticity, which is solidified by casting Ross and Ice Cube (as Grace's manager, Jack): These two hold true knowledge of the music industry and real power in the entertainment community. It's hard to believe they'd allow the film to go off-key.
Known mostly for hitting it out of the park on TV (black-ish), this performance makes it clear that it's time to see Ross as a movie star. Sure, as the daughter of Diana Ross and music manager Bob Ellis, she's been training to play a diva her entire life. But what's really striking is that while she nails every line, every look, and every gesture, she is in no way doing an impression of her mother -- or of any other diva. Grace Davis is a complete original, and yet she's familiar. Kelvin Harrison, Jr. continues to show off his versatility -- it's hard to believe an actor so young already has such a wide range, and now he proves that he can sing, too. The High Note is the first piece of produced work for screenwriter Flora Greeson, and it proves that she's one to watch. Some of the characters' choices may make viewers want to plug their ears, but that makes the film an even better choice for families with teens, who can discuss: Were the characters' choices realistic, honest, or relatable?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The High Note portrays institutional ageism and sexism in the music industry. Women have been trying to figure out how to combat this culturally ingrained behavior for centuries. What do you think can be done?
How is drinking portrayed in the film? Is it glamorized?
Another character tells Maggie that if she wants to be seen in a more significant role, she's got to earn it. What does he mean? Does she face additional barriers to success in her work due to her gender?
How does The High Note compare to other movies about the music industry? Do you think it's realistic?
- On DVD or streaming: August 11, 2020
- Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr, June Diane Raphael, Ice Cube
- Director: Nisha Ganatra
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some strong language, and suggestive references
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: August 12, 2020
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