Grand Piano (2013)
★ / ★★★★
Despite the fact that five years has passed since he botched “La cinquette,” a piece that is deemed unplayable because it requires not only great agility of the hands but also length of the fingers, Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) remains to have stage fright. Considered to be one of the great piano players in existence, Tom is persuaded by his wife (Kerry Bishé), a renowned movie star, to hold a comeback concert. Although things are going rather smoothly in the first few minutes, Tom eventually comes across a threatening message on his music sheet. The message claims that if Tom played even one wrong note, a sniper would shoot him dead.
“Grand Piano,” written by Damien Chazelle and directed by Eugenio Mira, is a thriller with an unbelievable premise but it does have potential to impress. However, it is ultimately unable to capitalize on that potential because the characters are not drawn like real people. Like too many ineffective thrillers, when there is a lack of substance in its core, the strategy is to cover it up by quirky behaviors or superficial personalities.
Tom is a nervous wreck. His wife, Emma, is superfluously supportive. Emma’s friend (Tamsin Egerton) who neither knows anything about nor appreciates classical music is portrayed like an uncultured blonde bimbo who gets upset at just about every little thing. It is not too much to ask to make the main players more relatable in a genuine way so that when, inevitably, their lives are on the line, we care about what will happen to them.
Although Tom is often threatened by a red dot—on his hands, his forehead, his chest—I found myself not caring whether he lives or dies. It is not that Wood is not the best fit for the role. On the contrary, he tries very hard to communicate the paranoia and panic of being on stage once again and maintaining professionalism. The weakness is in the script: The lines, no matter how one plays with them, often come off forced.
This is most obvious during the best scene in the picture: Tom hauling himself backstage to look up and review an important piece because he thought he would not need a physical copy of it. No words are needed to communicate the fear, the anxiety, and the frustration of having to prepare last-minute. Wood puts all of these emotions in his eyes and hands and we feel like we really are in that moment with his character. When no word is uttered, it is top-notch material. Unfortunately, the other scenes are not able to match this scene’s quality.
There is a problem with balancing tone and mood. At times the material comes across amusing when it is supposed to be deadly serious. The protagonist’s manic movements to and from the piano made me wonder why the audience do not ask more questions as to why he keeps getting up or exhibiting strange behavior during the performances. Granted, I have never been to a piano concerto so maybe pianists can leave his or her seat while the orchestra takes over.
The film will be tolerable to some but will likely bore many. I enjoyed the small moments when we are allowed to look what happens inside the grand piano while certain notes are played. I felt I had to find something to relish if I was to make it through the end.