There must be something about Grand films and ludicrous premises … not too long after watching The Grand Seduction I find myself immersed in a thriller where Elijah Wood is forced – by a sniper-rifle-toting John Cusack – to play piano or die. It’s more absurd than the low-key silliness of The Grand Seduction, so why did this one work for me?
I’m not entirely sure. Grand Piano largely focuses on the details of its premise, providing its explanation with a po-faced approach that belies the preposterousness. It’s impossible to take seriously, but composer-turned-director Eugenio Mira’s bold, roving cinematography and robust classical score do a great deal to maintain interest.
More importantly, Grand Piano manages to wield its premise as a crudely effective metaphor. Cusack’s oh-so-superior voice drones in Wood’s ear, urging him not to fail lest he – and his wife, played by Kerry Bishé – earn a bullet in the head, but ultimately drives Wood to new levels of artistic expression, just as an artist’s self-doubt can be simultaneously crippling and empowering. The thematic thrust of the film should be familiar to anyone who’s performed in front of an audience, and makes it significantly easier to swallow the silliness of the specifics.