Eugenio Mira’s latest feature time takes stage fright to a new extreme. In Grand Piano, master pianist Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) returns to the stage after a five year hiatus, crippled by anxiety and memories of a disastrous past performance. As he sits down to play in front of a packed house, he finds a threatening note scrawled on his score: “Play one wrong note and you die.”
It’s a gleefully preposterous premise, and from it, Mira and his collaborators spin a highly entertaining lark that tips its hat to the various maestros of the movie thriller (Hitchcock, De Palma, and Argento among them). Mira’s exuberant direction relies on an abundance of visual trickery from extravagant tracking shots to surprise split-screen, and even if his flourishes occasionally tread too close to pastiche for their own good, it’s to Mira’s credit that a few of his inventions are worthy of the masters to which he pays homage. Thankfully, there is no pretension here, no attempt at a strong thematic statement (ambitions which have bogged down quite a few recent exercises of this sort). Mira is simply out to have a good time, and the nods to the masters are all part of the fun.
And Grand Piano is a good time, if a very silly one. The ludicrous plot barely holds up to scrutiny, particularly as the villain’s motivation unravels, and the film’s broad comedy occasionally grates. But Grand Piano is aware of its own silliness, and, like this year’s The Conjuring, keen, sure-handed direction keeps the film centered even when the story threatens to run off the rails. Further anchoring the film is Wood, who imbues Selznick with palpable anxiety and bitterness while beautifully faking the complicated piano fingerwork demanded by Victor Reyes’ score.
As with all of Grand Piano, Reyes’ score nods back at classic cinema, recalling such brilliant made-for-film concert pieces as Arthur Benjamin’s “Storm Clouds Cantata” and Bernard Herrmann’s “Concerto Macabre.” Like the film itself, Reyes’ score may not deserve a spot alongside the classics to which it pays homage, but it nevertheless has the right spirit. Enthusiasm is infectious, and Grand Piano has it in spades.