As is so often the way, Sunday movie time came around this weekend and I wasn’t ready. Jill’s original movie choice wasn’t easily available to me so she had to pick an alternative. I’m kind of glad in a way because I’d never heard of this movie and, despite it tooting itself as a Spanish thriller, it’s kind of a no-brainer and was therefore, the ideal ‘I don’t have to think’ choice.
Grand Piano (2013)
A pianist with stage fright endures a performance under enemy eyes, who will shoot if a wrong note is played.
Elijah Wood’s (not Tobey Maguire’s) Tom Selznick is a crazy talented pianist who suffers horribly from stage fright. Returning to the public arena five years after publicly bodging a complex piece called “La Cinquette”, he is understandably racked with self-doubt and nerves. It doesn’t help that the world is beside themselves with glee at his return, nor that he is one half of a highly accomplished power couple, with his wife, Emma (Bishé).
Emma FYI is an award-winning actress with at least one camera permanently flashing in her face at all times, and has aspirations of also being a great singer (don’t hold your breath love, but we’ll come back to that). Needless to say, this night here is an important one for everybody involved, if only snivelling Tom can pull himself together. (Sorry, I’m not mocking anxiety at all, I’m a sufferer myself but must Tom be SUCH a wet blanket?). God.
Also present on Tom’s big night are Emma’s friends, Wayne and Ashley (Allen Leech and Tamsin Egerton), who aren’t exactly classical music types, or so you gather from the snarky conversation Emma and Tom have about them just before Tom arrives in the city. Yes, Tom and Emma seem like fucking snobs and this might affect your ability, as it did mine, to give a shit about them later on. But I jump the gun.
Significant information for your viewing pleasure is that the composer of the now infamous “La Cinquette”, the late Patrick Godureaux, was Tom’s mentor and the only person able to successfully play that funky tune. Something to do with the wide-spreading of the fingers and speed in which it is played. Godureaux is no stranger to his own media coverage, having garnered infamy post-humously when his great fortune went missing, and has never been found. Spooky!
So here’s Tom about to step back on stage, thanks to his wife’s relentless encouragement. Except – d’oh! – he’s forgotten his musical score! It’s okay though, as the usher finds him just in the nick of time and he’s free to begin. Joining him on stage is poor man’s Jeff Bridges, Norman Reisinger (Don McManus) who conducts the accompanying orchestra, as well as filling in an awful lot of blanks while Tom fucks about like a fart in a trance (again more later).
I feel like my dislike for Tom Selznick is coming through already and idgaf! Wood seems to have one expression which is: perpetually worried. Sort it out mate.
Shit kicks off as suggested in the synopsis above when Tom begins and finds a note written on his score. It tells him he’ll be shot if he fails to hit all the right notes. These little asides continue, and begin to threaten Emma’s well-being too. Emma herself is oblivious, sitting above the riff raff in a box with her co-stars from her latest film. She hasn’t even deigned to sit with her friends, the bitch. To drive the point home, the mystery shooter illustrates his position with a red lazer dot, which trains itself on Tom’s hands.
Tom does what every self-respecting worry wort would do in the same situation, which is to ignore instruction completely and run off stage (my kind of guy), never mind the music, yo. This took the thrill out of the premise for me as it quickly establishes that the mystery shooter won’t necessarily keep his word, and clearly needs something from Tom, so obvs won’t kill him yet.
I won’t go into each and every sceneario here but let me tell you that Tom soon gets the shooter’s voice in his ear and the movie gets a million times better from here as it allows us to savour the dulcet tones of someone this collab loves very much. You can guess from the cast list who but for now, oooh the mystery!
The shooter and Tom banter it out, or at least the shooter does as he’s much more interesting and charismatic. From the comfort of Tom’s ear canal, he needles, slags off Emma and directs Tom to do his bidding, all at the same time. This, of course, is just a very elaborate way to get him to play “La Cinquette” again, this time correctly. But why? (You’ll see).
He also orchestrates (see what I did?) the murders of two secondary characters (both of which have been named already in this review), quite gruesomely and one of them is waved in front of Tom’s very eyes as incentive to carry on the game. These victims are uncouth anyway so fuck them, right? Right.
Bit by bit our shooter reveals his motive and in turn who he is, and it quickly becomes clear that this is a heist of a very complex nature. Something about a secret within the piano (which by the way BELONGED to the late, great Godureaux). Could it – gasp! – hold the key to Godureaux’s elusive fortune?
The shooter is not working alone, he also has Bill S. Preston on side, which frankly is always going to be a good idea. He looks pretty handsome to be honest, which is all I really thought throughout his scenes, even while he was committing heinous acts.
So, will Tom finally crack this musical piece and become the star he’s always had the potential to be AND please the shooter? Will Emma be shot in the head as promised for his disobedience? I’m going to wrap up here and say, yes this film is as nuts as it suggests. It is definitely entertaining and worth a watch. But will it stay with you after the credits roll? Probably not.
I have to say that one of the plans Tom hatches to stall the shooter involves Emma doing a solo performance of ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’, which is as cringey as you can imagine. For a start, a) the song dates back to the era of slavery in the US and Emma is a wealthy white woman so… and b) she’s goddamn awful (and the actress is obviously lip synching badly, which makes the scene ten million times worse).
If I’d been the shooter I can assure you this would have been my moment, fuck the plan. But alas, no.
At times this felt like it had its roots in hammer horror. If it had been a film set in the 1940’s starring Bette Davis and I don’t know, a young Anthony Perkins in the central roles, it might have been something really special. Instead it’s enjoyable hammy trash which I don’t hold against it one bit.
I’ve never been a Wood fan (although Maniac and Sin City saw him try to break type). He’s just too boyish and dull. The funnest characters were put down way too early, and although the premise of the movie and the eventual reveal itself were quite strong, it’s not executed it the best way. Unlike our friends Wayne and Ashley – *Cymbal crash!*
I’m not going to mention the actor playing the shooter himself other than to say I love his particular brand of mania, which puts me in mind of a slightly less enthusiastic Nic Cage. I think you would like this film if you liked Phone Booth (2002). In a way I’m disappointed that the shooter revealed himself at all. It might have been stronger had he just been a disembodied voice and a figure in the shadows, with an evil henchman to carry out the donkey work – which I suppose contradicts what I’ve just said about his performance. But still.
Well done, the shooter. Well done, Alex Winter. Well done, Tamsin Egerton (for calling out Emma and having good hair). And well done, the piano. Everyone else can fuck off.
Oh yes, and one MAJOR criticism: no Joan cameo.
3/5. Slightly off key. Loolllllll.
What did my lovely wife think of this one? Did it hit a bum note or was it in perfect harmony with her soul? Find out here, obviously.