Writing a No. 1 hit single is every musician’s dream. But it’s not a dream that very many ever achieve. Even though thousands of songs have made it to that top spot, the number of artists who created them is much, much smaller. If you’re a woman, that number becomes even smaller. And if you’re over 40? Well, let’s just say that very few female artists over 40 have made it to the coveted spot.
So, what hope does Grace Davis, an over-40, black, female pop star have of claiming the title again—especially since she hasn’t released any new music in a decade?
Grace’s label and managers don’t see it happening. In fact, they’re so positive that Grace will never record a chart-topper again that they want her to retreat to a musical residency in Las Vegas, performing the same show night after night.
It’s not a bad gig necessarily. It would secure her financial interests and give them all a break from her hectic touring schedule. But it just sounds so boring. And Grace isn’t the only one rolling her eyes at the suggestion.
Maggie is the ultimate Grace Davis fan. She grew up listening to Grace on the radio, owns all of her albums and even made a remix of Grace’s music to prove her talent as a producer. There’s just one caveat: Maggie’s just an assistant, and nobody is interested in what she thinks.
But unlike the men in suits managing Grace’s career, Maggie is also the only one who truly believes Grace can reach the top of the charts again. So she sets out to prove that Grace still has one hit left in her.
Grace and Maggie’s relationship is, admittedly, pretty one dimensional early on. As Grace’s assistant, Maggie fetches coffee, chauffeurs Grace around town and even breaks in shoes for the pop star in the hope that Grace will give her a real shot as a music producer. And Grace often takes these efforts for granted. However, as she realizes that Maggie is one of the few people in her life that she actually trusts, Grace stops taking advantage of her, and the two gradually build a partnership built on trust and loyalty.
Sometimes it seems as if Grace bows down to every whim of her manager, Jack, which is frustrating to watch since it’s clear she has her own opinions. Maggie, for her part, believes he’s just trying to exploit Grace’s talents for his own benefit. But it becomes clear that Jack only has Grace’s best interests at heart. He’s worked with her for 20 years, and he’s protected Grace3 from people looking to use her as a steppingstone in their own careers. Grace knows this and respects it.
When Maggie starts feels insecure about her abilities as a producer, her dad, boyfriend and roommate all encourage her and remind her of everything she has accomplished. We learn that Maggie’s boyfriend, David, has a strained relationship with his mom since she abandoned him and his dad when David was very young. However, as they work towards reconciliation, David sees that his mom is proud of him; they both agree that even though his life was hard at times, it all worked out in the end.
Someone compares pop stars to gods.
Maggie and David kiss and make out a few times. They are also seen cuddling on a bed in their underwear twice (implying that they had sex). Another couple kisses. Grace overshares the details of her sex life with Maggie, telling Maggie about her many dalliances, including encounters with groupies. She even asks Maggie to purchase massage oil in preparation for a date.
Grace and her backup dancers wear flashy costumes that reveal a lot of skin and cleavage. She specifically asks Maggie if one dress is too “booby.” People wear bathing suits while lounging poolside. Women wear sports bras and yoga pants while exercising.
We hear about a couple who lived together before marrying and another who never married, even after having a child together. Grace openly admits that she never wants to marry. Another female artist is called “sexy.”
David accidentally falls off a fence, resulting in several cuts on his face.
We hear the f-word once and the s-word about 20 times. We also hear 10 uses of “d–n,” six each of “h—” and “a–,” three of “p-ss” and one use each of “b–ch,” “a—,” “d–k,” “douchebag” and “blowhard.” God’s name is misused around 30 times (five of which are paired with “dammit”). Jesus’ name is abused twice.
Characters drink various alcoholic beverages throughout the movie. Once, Maggie has to spit her drink out when Grace catches her drinking at a function where she is supposed to be working. Another time, Maggie has to pick up a highly inebriated Grace from a hotel and drive her home. There are also mentions of using Ambien, “shrooms” and heroin.
Although Maggie is a hard worker, her determination to succeed at all costs ironically winds up costing her a lot. Her work performance starts slipping because she tries to take on too many projects at once. She lies to David and Grace, losing the trust of both. She insults another music producer, which embarrasses Grace, Jack and herself in the process. And after she finally drops the ball by failing to get an opening act for Grace’s launch party, she is fired.
Grace, for her part, often acts spoiled and entitled. She likes to name drop and boast about her 11 Grammy Awards. She mocks Maggie for not having a nicer car or clothes. And even when she apologizes at one point, Grace emphasizes, “I forgive myself.”
Jack and Gail (Grace’s housekeeper) treat Maggie poorly and talk down to her, often forgetting that she’s an actual employee, not just an intern. Someone mentions an enema. A doctor shows her friends a picture of her performing an open-heart surgery. A musician warns Maggie that becoming famous often means that you miss out on important things in life—such as your best friend’s wedding or important milestones in the lives of your kids.
If you want to be a success, you can’t sit around waiting for it to be handed to you. You have to go out there and pursue it. You have to put in the time and the effort. And no matter what, you can’t give up. If someone tells you, “No,” then find a different way—a better way.
People continually tell Maggie that she can’t be a producer. They insult her, belittle her work and mock her for trying. But she doesn’t give up. She gets creative and finds new ways of approaching problems until people give her the answer she wants. And her commitment doesn’t go unnoticed. That tenacity inspires her hero, Grace Davis, and gives the older woman confidence to keep pursuing her own goals.
Grace doesn’t want to be a “has been.” She wants to make a comeback. She wants to prove that she still has it after all these years. She knows that it’s risky and that one wrong move could bring the empire that she’s built tumbling down. But she chooses to make herself vulnerable to Maggie anyway, because if she can’t be courageous enough to take a chance on herself, then who is she doing this all for?
Despite its feel-good messages about friendship and perseverance, The High Note still hits some low notes, too, as it glorifies an extravagant, excess-filled lifestyle—one filled with foul language, drinking, showy outfits and casual sex. And even people from more humble backgrounds, like Maggie, are not immune from the impulse to indulge in the lush perks that come with being around someone famous.
So while The High Note ends on a proverbial high note, its objectionable content causes it to fall flat on the journey to that destination.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.