A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Grand Piano" is a tidy and tension-filled exercise in terror that takes stage fright to literal extremes. Save for a few brief opening interludes aboard an airplane beset by turbulence and a sequence inside a limo, the entire enterprise takes place in a Chicago symphonic hall during a musical performance.
Spanish director Eugenio Mira has acknowledged his debt to the cymbal-clanging climax in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much". But there is a sumptuous lurid sensibility lurking as well, from the sweeping camera choreography to the art-deco style fan of crimson amid gold and black that forms the stage backdrop. Think of it as a diabolical blend of Brian De Palma and Dario Argento by way of "The Phantom of the Opera".
Elijah Wood, sporting that same sort of wide-eyed woeful countenance that served him well as ring-bearer Frodo Baggins, is Tom Selznick, an anxious piano prodigy making a comeback backed by a full orchestra after a five-year absence. The pressure is on after he famously choked during his last concert while attempting the notorious La Cinquette—better known as "the unplayable piece." That it was composed by his deceased mentor, whose haunting bearded visage glares from a photo and poster as Tom enters the auditorium and whose ominous customized Bosendorfer piano joins Tom onstage as a kind of ominous supporting character, makes matters all the creepier.
With everyone reminding him of his past failure—including his lovely and lissome actress wife, Emma (Kerry Bishe), who arranged for this appearance with hopes of restoring her husband's confidence, a radio interviewer (voiced by none other than E.T.'s adoptive mom Dee Wallace) who needles him about his nerves and even the well-wishing fellow musicians and crew at the hall—Tom is sweating through his tux before he even strikes a single key.