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The pure musical might be somewhat out of style, save for the odd Disney affair, or an all-ages production like THE GREATEST SHOWMAN. And yet we’ve recently seen several great movies that feature music in an integral way; many include original tunes. Whether it’s a biopic like Elton John’s ROCKETMAN or the charming, alternate universe romantic comedy YESTERDAY, these movies have weaved music into a story in fresh and innovative ways.
Now THE HIGH NOTE folds brand new songs into its narrative alongside stone-cold classics, to tell a story that might be this year’s answer to A STAR IS BORN.
[Image credit: Focus Features]
As the fun trailer suggests, the relationship at the heart of THE HIGH NOTE is between a world-famous singer (Tracee Ellis Ross) and her beleaguered assistant (Dakota Johnson), who dreams of becoming a songwriter in her own right. This dynamic mirrors A STAR IS BORN, which followed a seasoned musician (Bradley Cooper) who takes on a young, inexperienced protégé (Lady Gaga).
In both films, the relationship — whether romantic or not — drives the narrative and also fuels much of the drama. Struggling to establish your place in the music industry and plateauing in your respective field both create a lot of tension. And it seems like there are a lot more jokes in THE HIGH NOTE. Point goes to the new movie.
While A STAR IS BORN was the third remake of the 1937 original, it had originality going for it in the form of some very catchy original songs. Chief among them was "Shallow," which won the Best Original Song Oscar.
THE HIGH NOTE will feature some new songs, along with a few classics. (The movie’s original title was COVERS, referencing the practice of artists playing tunes by other writers.) As in A STAR IS BORN, which featured sequences shot at real-life music festivals like Coachella, Stagecoach and Glastonbury, and had Lukas Nelson (son of Willie Nelson) help with the songs, THE HIGH NOTE aims to create a similar level of authenticity.
To accomplish that, THE HIGH NOTE counts several musicians among its cast, including Ice Cube (who plays a member of Ross's inner circle) and Diplo, who plays himself. Also, there’s the fact that Tracee is the daughter of genuine musical legend Diana Ross and prominent music executive Robert Ellis Silberstein. Bow down.
While A STAR IS BORN has its emotional crescendos, it is really about a toxic relationship, the cost of addiction, and the general unpleasantness of fame and celebrity. THE HIGH NOTE looks prepped to tackle similarly powerful issues, from sexism to ageism, racism, and (once again) the general unpleasantness of fame and celebrity. The fact that it will touch those topics with comedy doesn't dilute the power of the themes.
There’s a particularly powerful moment in the trailer when Ross says, “In the history of music only five women over 40 have had a #1 hit and only one of them was black.” So, yes, THE HIGH NOTE could be a fun movie night out with friends, but it could also make you think about some much bigger issues.
All images courtesy of Focus Features.
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