I’ve never seen any of the 50 Shades movies, but I’ve seen quite a few of Dakota Johnson‘s films and I quite like her as an actress. So she’s the main draw for me to see this one which reminds me a bit of Cloud of Sils Maria, where Kristen Stewart (another talented young actress famous for being in a huge, lucrative franchise) plays a dedicated personal assistant of a famous celebrity.
I enjoy this movie thoroughly and I find it engaging from the start. Both Tracee Ellis Ross as the superstar singer Grace Davis and Dakota as her overworked assistant Maggie fit the characters nicely. Obviously Tracee channelled her very famous mom Diana Ross for the role, but I think she made the role her own and she also has a wonderful singing voice. Dakota has a certain charm & cool factor that makes her so watchable, and she’s proven herself to be quite a versatile actress.
Just like Nisha Ganatra‘s previous movie Late Night, this movie also explores the power dynamic of two talented women, but tackling it with wit and humor. At the same time, it’s also not afraid to tackle important subject matters such as sexism AND ageism in the music industry. Despite her fame and success, Grace still can’t break free from the expectations of her manager and music label. She wanted to record new music (as does Maggie), but her manager wants her to just ‘cash it in’ by doing residency like other big name singers like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, etc. There’s a conversation between Maggie and Grace in a bathroom is a memorable one and I find it inspiring that Grace doesn’t want to play it safe despite what the record label thinks she should do because of her age.
Maggie herself is an aspiring music producer herself and despite her demanding boss, somehow found time to discover a new talent in David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) at a party. Dakota really sells it as someone who’s absolutely passionate about music, and the scene of her in a studio recording session is a memorable one. Ice Cube is always fun to watch though he gets to be a bit over the top here as Grace’s manager. There are two amusing cameo roles here, there’s Bill Pullman as Maggie’s radio DJ dad who instills the deep love of music in her; and Eddie Izzard as a music star Maggie reach out to for Grace’s album release party. Too bad we don’t get to see Izzard perform though, would’ve been cool if he’d done a Glamrock-style number.
The movie does feel rather formulaic in parts. I feel the romance between Maggie and David is so unnecessary and the film would’ve been more intriguing without it. There’s also a twist at the end that really came out of left field, and a serendipitous moment that feels all too convenient. Still, this movie hits mostly the right notes. Tracee’s performance feels authentic in that you believe her as a bonafide music superstar, and Dakota brings Maggie’s own personal journey in a believable way. You could do much worse than a feel-good movie with likable characters and wonderful music.