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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Grand Piano review: not enough notes

by MaryAnn Johanson

Grand Piano red light

Builds up a good momentum of suspense only to throw it away on a rushed and powerfully unsatisfying ending, rendering all its preposterousness suddenly unforgivable.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

World-famous classical concert pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood: The Wind Rises, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) hasn’t been in front of an audience in five years, after a performance went, apparently, so disastrously wrong that classical music nerds are still talking about it. But his movie star wife, Emma (Kerry Bishé: The Fitzgerald Family Christmas, Argo), has arranged a comeback. And as if Tom weren’t already nervous enough, when he opens his sheet music — you know, the kind that I’m pretty sure world-famous classical concert pianists don’t use onstage in the same way that actors onstage don’t use scripts — he discovers that someone has written there, in big nasty blood-red letters, “Play one wrong note and you die.” Sure enough, there’s the little red dot of a laser gunsight on his chest, from somewhere up in the balcony.

My nonsense-o-meter had already perked up earlier, when Tom had utterly failed to discover a box that had been snuck into his backpack by his wife — a box that appears to just about fill the entire backpack, mind — until Emma directs him to it. I let it slide. I let more seemingly ridiculous stuff slide, like how Tom is able to keep playing very complex music while carrying on a conversation with the voice of the bad guy (John Cusack: The Frozen Ground, The Raven) in the earpiece that had also been snuck into his backpack. (If there’s a moral to this story, it’s: Keep an eye on your belongings.) The audience in the concert hall already thinks Tom is a little bit eccentric, so sure, they might think he’s just talking to himself if they notice his lips moving. But how the hell can he keep playing while he’s tapping out a text-cry-for-help on his phone at the same time? I mean: surreptitiously tapping out a text, so the bad guy doesn’t notice, onstage, in front of a huge crowd, while also playing world-famous classical-concert-pianist level music?

Still, I let all this slide because there’s some genuine suspense in the bad guy’s threats to shoot Tom, to shoot Emma sitting in a prominent box, if Tom screws up his musical performance or calls the cops or Does Anything Stupid. Plus: John Cusack. I had pretty much figured out why a bad guy would want someone like Tom to play every note absolutely perfectly on this specific famous piano, and I even let slide the absurd notion that only Tom in the whole world could play these notes absolutely perfectly. But none of it seemed like it could be all there was to the story, and I was intrigued to see how screenwriter Damien Chazelle and director Eugenio Mira were going to make this work as, you know, a movie.

As it turns out, they don’t. Even if things had gone exactly as the bad guy had wanted, it would appear that there would be no way for him to wrap his plan up in the way it would need to be wrapped up. But of course the bad guy is thwarted, via stuff that might be forgiven for being completely ridiculous if it resulted in something juicy or ironic, if it was funny or witty or ended up with someone getting something they deserved, or something they needed, or just anything. Instead, everything zooms to an ending that doesn’t even feel like an ending, and, indeed, in the cleverly warped thriller this wants to be, would be only the end of the second act, with the juicy funny ironic satisfying third-act ending still to come.

Even with its insanely long opening and closing credits, Grand Piano still only just barely stretches out to 80-something minutes. Did the actual ending get chopped off somewhere along the way? Preposterous thrillers can only get away with being preposterous if they end on just the right note. This one simply stops playing before it gets anywhere near it.

Grand Piano (2014)
US/Canada release date: Mar 07 2014 (VOD Jan 30 2014) | UK release date: Sep 19 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated TE (contains a tin ear for storytelling)
MPAA: rated R for some language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong violence)

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    Sounds as if they started off with some intriguing ideas, then forgot to make the actual good movie to go with it. Oh well. (Not a fan of Wood anyway; like Tom Cruise, his face distracts me from his acting.)

  • I like Wood just fine, and none of the cast is a problem here. The big issue with Wood is how damn young he still looks! He’s well into his 30s, but someone here calls him “kid,” and it’s hard to refute that that’s how he looks.

    How he looks is not his fault, of course, but it makes it hard to know how we’re supposed to take him here: Is he *supposed* to be a naive kid, or a sophisticated adult? That could change how we react to some of the things he does here…

  • arnieus

    What a preposterous piece of nothing. Why would John Cusack take this one minute non-role?? Is he that hard up for work?

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