The cinematic landscape has changed drastically due to recent global events and though the canceling of red carpet premieres and the movement of theatrical releases to on-demand services is a relatively tiny issue when compared to soaring death and unemployment rates, it’s sad to see the lights dim on those who appeared poised to grab the spotlight. Nisha Ganatra’s new film The High Note represents a big moment for a number of folks in front of and behind the camera, but it will be released digitally after its May 8th theatrical opening was scrapped. This is nothing to sniff at, of course, but Hollywood still measures worth in terms of box office results and there still isn’t a comparable metric for home viewing success.

The chronically underrated Tracee Ellis Ross has seen her star rise in the last six years with her critically acclaimed role on TV’s “Blackish” but has had very few film roles in her 25-year entertainment career. She’s not only a star of The High Note, she’s the star, and she plays a singing legend so believably onscreen that it’s hard to believe she isn’t one. Her co-lead, Dakota Johnson, is the perfect foil for Ross, playing her everywoman role with charisma, enthusiasm and a little bit of reverence. They’re supported by an incredible cast of talent, including established performers Ice Cube, Eddie Izzard, and Bill Pullman and rising stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Diplo and June Diane Raphael.

Director Ganatra, who directed last year’s funny, under-seen Late Night and has a host of TV credits to her name, wrangles all of the talent with admirable dexterity, establishing Ross as the star while giving everyone involved a chance to shine. She leans into the glamour and gloss of the Los Angeles music scene, but also shows the level of work that goes into maintaining a life within that golden bubble.

Ross plays Grace Davis, a legendary singer whose handlers, led by her manager Jack (Ice Cube), are trying to guide her towards a Vegas residency. Grace has been performing old hits for the last decade and she’s got the fire to record new music even if she doesn’t have the support. Her beleaguered assistant, Maggie (Johnson), has dreams of being a music producer, but hasn’t worked up the guts to ask Grace to collaborate in the three years she’s worked for her. And though Grace has power over Maggie and is famous and beloved, what The High Note does so well is present the lack of power even she has when it comes to managing her own life and career. Despite recent progress, Los Angeles is still a relative ghost town when it comes to women over 40 in leading roles and on album covers.

Flora Greeson’s screenplay featured on the 2018 Black List and it’s easy to see why. The story isn’t necessarily groundbreaking – the main plot is basically an amalgamation of the TV series “Nashville,” 2000’s cult classic Coyote Ugly and Dreamgirls – but it’s a confidently meta film, one that takes on racism and sexism while focusing on a relationship between two women. The meta aspect comes from it being a movie about the entertainment industry and from it featuring Ross playing a character similar in many ways to her very famous mother, Diana Ross, alongside the daughter of another famous woman.

Diana Ross and Melanie Griffith saw career opportunities dry up as they aged, so for their daughters to take on this storyline together is important, adding another layer to the film, and a satisfying one at that. Ross is also faced with the burden of playing a singing superstar, which is no small undertaking when your mother is one of the most recognizable hitmakers in history. But she sings and does so ably, neither mimicking her mother nor turning her back completely on the sound. When you hear her sing, you’re reminded of how great a performer Diana Ross was in her heyday, and you’re seeing what a fantastic performer Tracee Ellis Ross is today.

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