Tag Archives: June Diane Raphael

The High Note

Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a mega music star. She’s touring the world, selling out stadiums, and she’s not slowing down. But she’s not recording new music, either – not in a decade. She’s a middle-aged woman of colour, not exactly the stuff of 2020’s Billboard #1 artists, as her manager (Ice Cube) and label guys keep not-so-gently reminding her. The safe bet is to keep playing those same beloved songs to her ever-fervent fans, maybe do a nice, safe Vegas residency, and every so often repackage those hits into a “new” greatest hits album. Grace Davis is a fictional star but I’m sure these credentials are reminding you of more than one of yesterday’s top recording artists. Maybe even of Tracee Ellis Ross’s own mama, Ms. Diana Ross.

Grace’s personal assistant Maggie (Dakota Johnson) has been fetching her green juice and dry cleaning thanklessly for the past 3 years. Maggie keeps hoping her role will be a stepping stone to where she’d actually want to be – a producer – but not only is Grace not recording music, she’s adamant that Maggie stay in her lane. So when Maggie bumps into David (Kelvin Harrison, Jr) on an errand for Grace, she’s pretty open to following her dream in another direction. David’s playing the grocery store’s parking lot, but his talent is legit so she fudges the details and convinces him to let her produce his album.

Does the moonlighting go well? It would be a crummy movie if everyone just lived happily ever after forevermore. There’s going to be some major bumps. Ellis Ross is terrific as Grace, but she’s definitely not just channeling her mother. She’s made Grace the hardest of things: a pop icon, and an actual woman. She’s worried about staying relevant, about aging, about work-life balance, about being the only woman in a room full of men trying to determine her future. Meanwhile, Maggie is trying to break into a male-dominated field that tries to discourage her by having her fetch coffee. Thematically, this film is the perfect follow-up for director Nisha Ganatra, who gave us Late Night last year.

The Dakota Johnson arc is a little pat, a little too rom-commy; The High Note actually shines when Ross is on screen stealing scenes. I almost wish we could have just stayed with her and lived in her skin, a true testament to Ross and the layered character she crafts. Still, the ensemble is talented, and if at times the script veers toward formulaic, the film is glossy, the songs are catchy, and Ross is indeed a star.

Girl Most Likely

When you meet her mother, you’ll understand why Imogene Duncan would rather fake a suicide than go home when her boyfriend dumps her unceremoniously. Zelda isn’t the most nurturing of mothers given she spends more time in casinos than at home. A chronic gambler and hence constantly broke, Zelda (Annette Bening) isn’t much better now than she was then. Her boyfriend claims to be a time-traveling samurai (Matt Dillon), she’s renting Imogene’s (Kristen Wiig) bedroom to some stranger (Darren Criss), oh, and, her dead dad? Isn’t dead (Bob Balaban).

So displacing her disappointment in her failed relationship with her boyfriend to her father, she goes to New York in search for him but gets ejected from the city AGAIN. Poor Imogene. New Jersey is her worst nightmare but she just keeps winding up there no matter what she does. And spoiler alert: finding her absent father is not the key to her happiness. In fact, it’s very possible that Imogene doesn’t need to be saved by any man, not her dad, not her spoiled boyfriend, not even the samurai-CIA agent sleeping in her mother’s bed. If Imogene can just grow a tougher outer shell, she can take care of herself, face the truth, and fulfill her potential.

Girl Most Likely is a good reminder to fill your life with the right kind of people. And it’s a good reminder to me to fill my film appetite with a little more June Diane Raphael. Even playing the bitch best friend she was a scene-stealer and I almost hoped she’d reappear to fuck up Imogene’s life just a little more. Because she does it with such pizzazz! I love pizzazz. Although what an odd word to have just written twice. Amiright?