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With audiences currently in isolation, content providers have had to get creative in how and when they choose to deliver their product to the masses. Focus Features has been pretty adroit with its release model in recent months, as the studio has used the opportunity to debut movies like director Nisha Ganatra’s The High Note as premium VOD rentals for those who want to see something new while stuck at home.
I recently had an opportunity to speak with actors Ice Cube, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Bill Pullman, as well as Nisha Ganatra herself, on behalf of their respective roles in making The High Note. As you’ll see in the video below, studio executives aren’t the only ones who have embraced the situation with much positivity.
There are quite a few reasons to be excited about The High Note’s VOD release during the current health crisis that has swept the world. While the situation has increased pressure between theater chains and the studios that have engaged in such business practices, the aim has never been to stir the pot or start a war of words.
Rather, judging by the feelings that people like Nisha Ganatra have about the film, The High Note is one of those movies that aims to entertain its audience as if it was another Friday night at the movies. Ganatra in particular likens her film to the following experience:
It’s one of those studio films that I’ve always loved growing up, that I would run to the theater to watch. It’s like a big cozy blanket that’s wrapped around you. You get to laugh and cry and eat snacks.
While The High Note sees Dakota Johnson’s Maggie and Tracee Ellis Ross’ Grace trying to navigate the perils and pitfalls of either making it or keeping it together in “the industry," it’s not a dour affair. There’s nothing wrong with films like A Star Is Born, where the story of a rising talent is told against the backdrop of bittersweet decline, but it’s not the only variant to this sort of story.
It’s the crux of what makes writer Flora Greeson’s Black List honored script, originally titled Covers, different from most films of its ilk. Audiences are probably used to a version of the story where Maggie’s beleaguered assistant character would be pressured by Grace’s high-powered diva, and eventually the two would split under less-than-ideal circumstances. Yet, if there’s a greater source of conflict in The High Note, it’s not the relationship between assistant and talent. Rather, Ice Cube’s character, Jack, is the catalyst for the headbutting that goes on in the film.
Even then, Ice Cube’s performance as Jack allows him to engage in creating and releasing pressure, as the improv and comedy skills he’s honed during his career were known to break many a participant during a take on The High Note’s set. That helpful dynamic comes from his own personal understanding of why the film makes for a perfect summer/quarantine movie, as he described its charms as such:
It’s about the music business. It’s LA. You feel like you’re at Sunset, it’s an amazing look all the way around. … It’s a great feel-good movie, especially at a time when you can’t go to the concerts.
Comedy, drama, and the drive to succeed all help fuel The High Note’s quest to serve as an entertainment during harder times in the world. But there’s always room for a bit of romance in this sort of movie, and that’s where Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s David comes into play. A random acquaintance in the life of Dakota Johnson’s character, David bonds with Maggie over the love of music. This only strengthens itself when the aspiring producer realizes she’s also stumbled upon a fresh, raw musical talent.
It’s a role that’s allowed Harrison to hone and debut musical aspirations he’s held onto since he was a child. And with a lot of hard work and prep, the role of David has allowed Kelvin Harrison Jr., much like his The High Note co-star Tracee Ellis Ross, to debut his singing voice to the public.
Focusing on the development of both David’s talents as a singer/songwriter and Maggie’s skills as a music producer, The High Note is a picture of young talent on the rise, but also a story of connecting as people. Which perfectly fuels the reasons behind why Kelvin Harrison Jr. feels the film is a perfect debut for the moment:
It’s uplifting. It keeps your energy high and your spirits high, during a time where it could kind of easily sink low.
While Kelvin Harrison Jr. was talking about the fact that The High Note was dropping during current global events, I can’t help but hope the entertaining escapism the film provides can provide some solace for people during the current climate of unrest as well. Like any project, The High Note is something meant to hit audiences no matter when it would have been sent into the world. Rounding out the reactions of the cast I was able to gather is that of legendary character actor Bill Pullman, who summed up his thoughts on the matter thusly:
Of course, when we made [The High Note], we had no idea it’d be released in these interesting, one-in-a-lifetime kind of experiences. I thought it was going to be a good movie for all time, because it’s about music, and that’s what intrigued me about the project. … [The movie’s] got this surprise about it, this great feeling of joy, throughout even the dramatic sections.
With an ear for music, and a passion for the personal stories that make it a medium vital to the human experience, The High Note couldn’t have picked a better time to find an audience. As world events have been more emotionally wearing than usual, it’s still nice to know that for a moment of our choosing, we can escape into a story that has something beautiful to say. It might not be much, but it’s something that can help keep people sane in uncertain times. The High Note is now available for rental on VOD.