Grand Piano

I'd like to continue our tradition of using foreign movie posters at the top of our reviews.

I’d like to continue our tradition of using foreign movie posters at the top of our reviews.




Grand Piano is a movie about a pianist, and not a piano, or at least, that’s what I thought. Though the movie does open with a group of movers moving said Piano out of a creepy, abandoned mansion. So maybe it’s the star after all. There is Elijah Wood, playing the pianist, who has massive stage fright and has agreed, for some reason, to play piano in front of a large crowd, while attempting some “notoriously difficult pieces” as the lady who calls him for a radio interview informs us. I’ve never heard a radio interview with a piano player, but maybe I don’t listen to the right stations. He also has a gift from his wife that says welcome to the 21st Century. Yay, she got him android tablet. He doesn’t care.

He’s apparently married to Kerry Bishe, a mega-movie star (more exposition from our radio interviewer) and I gather the piano from the opening is the one he practiced on for many years with some eccentric, crazy piano player. Elijah had some kind of breakdown five years prior and this is his big comeback. Elijah shows up to the concert hall and makes a weird comment about their possibly being CIA agents on sight? The orchestra conductor is being awfully nice to him, telling him not to sweat it, if he screws up nobody will even notice if he hits a wrong note. Ending his pep-talk with “It’s just music.” That’s an awfully enlightened attitude for a professional orchestra conductor.

Elijah’s wife has a couple of friends coming to the concert who seem way out of touch for this type of thing. They aren’t classic music fans, it’s unclear at this point what role they’ll be playing during the movie. I’m guessing comic relief.





Does anyone know why I’m here? I’m funny?


Elijah’s about to go on-stage when a stage hand brings him his score, which he left in the dressing room. Also, that stage hand is Alex Winter, so I’m guessing we’ll be seeing him again. He also helpfully informs him that the place is packed. Elijah starts tearing through the music, dropping some of it on the floor when a strange looking cleaning guy gives him a head shake that seems to say, “I knew you were still a screw-up.”




Wyld Stallions behind the scenes stock photo.

Wyld Stallions behind the scenes stock photo.





Everything seems to be going fine, he’s playing well, then he notices some red marks in his music sheets. An arrow pointing to the next page where a note is written, saying “Play one wrong note and you die”. He seems to think this is an ass-holish prank being played by the other musicians, but on the next page it says, “Do you think I’m kidding? Look to your right.” Of course there’s a laser scope there to his right. Then the note, “Call for help and I’ll shoot you between the eyes.” Elijah gets up and leaves the stage to the gasps of the confused crows while the orchestra keeps playing.

The laser sight (which no one else seems to be able to see) points him back to the stage and he takes his place to begin playing again. Another note says “Play the piano” as though this entire sequence was anticipated. Elijah plays.

More notes say “At the break go to your dressing room, I’ve got something for you.” Followed by “Make Emma proud.” That would be his wife. But he doesn’t wait for the break, he goes immediately to his dressing room. (More gasps from the crowd). What’s in his dressing room? A phone with a message on it. Pictures of his wife sitting in her balcony seat with the red dot on her. Then “Side pocket of your backpack”. Where he finds an earpiece. Then John Cusack tells him, “Get. Back. On. Stage.”

This is all you'll see of John Cusack for most of the movie.

This is all you’ll see of John Cusack for most of the movie.





A conversation ensues in which Elijah tells him this is a prank, and he says if he’s right then he can tell him off, but if he’s wrong his wife is getting shot. He’s going to prove it by firing a bullet, silently, onto the stage. He has a very quiet sniper rifle. If he screws up he gets shot. If he goes for help his wife gets shot. He doesn’t want money. He wants Elijah to play the most flawless concert of his life.

He tells Elijah he’s killed her. He looks up to see his wife gone from her seat. He starts to get up and Cusack tells him, “Sit down or I really will shoot her.” He’s really screwing with Elijah at this point. He tells Elijah his wife won’t be in the history books, but he will, even though she’s on more magazine covers than he is.

What was I thinking? I can't fly this thing!

What was I thinking? I can’t fly this thing!





His wife is back as the conductor introduces the next piece, apparently the eccentric teacher’s favorite piece, and the conductor is going to do some exposition about the piano, which belonged to Patric, the eccentric teacher, and the piano is apparently going to Switzerland after the show.

Elijah realizes he has something in his pocket, and he’s trying to get to it while he plays. Oh, it’s the cell phone he found in his dressing room. He’s going to try messaging somebody with one hand while he plays with the other. Apparently it’s his phone as he’s going through the address book. He’s called someone, ah, it’s the friend, and her phone is going off during the concert. Everyone’s looking at them. Elijah is trying to hold a conversation with both Cusack and the friend at the same time, very cleverly, starting by saying “I want to know why you have a gun pointed at her.” But the friends are fighting over the phone, so they’re not actually listening.

Elijah’s other friend cleverly goes to the bathroom and calls him back, causing him to drop the phone and almost screw up the piece. Cusack wants to know what’s happening. Elijah covers by saying his watch alarm went off. Elijah puts the phone behind the music and he’s texting while he plays, while pretending to follow the notes. He really is both a very good pianist and a clever texter. So now he has a friend that knows what’s happening, sort of. This can’t end well for said friend.

Our friend has found someone to assist him, and it’s Alex Winter, professional stage hand. He says we’ll go get help, but then takes his buddy hostage. Apparently they’re not comic relief, they’re the ones here to show us how dire the situation actually is. Cusack tells Elijah to look above him, where he sees his friend, dead. Cusack tells him “You’ve never seen a dead body before have you? How can you be a great artist with so little life experience?” Now he’s telling him he has to play the “unplayable piece”. The piece almost no one in the world can play, the same one he screwed up five years ago.

What about Chopsticks? I can play that without screwing up.

What about Chopsticks? I can play that without screwing up.





La Cinquette is the name of the piece. Elijah tells him that’s the piece he threw away, and he tells him, “Too bad, play it from memory.” Elijah wants someone to get him the piece, but there’s no one available. Meanwhile the other friend has gone looking for the now dead friend. She calls friend number one’s cell phone and hears it ringing. She goes upstairs to find him dead, and the stage hand, who is apparently Cusack’s assistant tries to tase her but she turns the tables on him momentarily and he has to slam her head into a mirror and then cut her throat with the broken piece of glass.

You have the strangest looking cell phone...wait a minute.

You have the strangest looking cell phone…wait a minute.





Elijah looks down to see everyone staring at him as the music ends and he rushes offstage, following Cusack’s directions. To the stairs, then left at the bottom, three doors down (isn’t that a band?) and then to the left where he finds himself in a boiler room under the theater. That’s where the cleaning guy from before is throwing trash into the fire. Including the score he needs. Elijah’s panicked and tells Cusack he has a copy of the score at home. Nope. But now Elijah has an idea! The gift he got from Emma in the Limo. The tablet.

He downloads the music and starts writing it on a piece of paper. He’s trying to remember how to play the piece, writing himself music notes as he listens to it. He couldn’t have just googled the damn sheet music? Cusack sends his stage-hand assistant to check on Elijah, and then to follow Emma to make sure she doesn’t leave. Elijah is still trying to write the music while listening to it on his tablet. Maybe what she got him was just a music player? It’s unclear.

Emma and the stage hand both come to his dressing room and it looks like Elijah has figured out who Cusack’s partner in crime is, but maybe he’s just freaking out because he’s afraid his wife is going to die. He freezes until they leave and then starts hyperventilating. He grabs his handwritten sheet music and heads back to the stage.

In the world of Grand Piano this is the world's most famous actress/singer, and married to a professional pianist. It's that kind of world.

In the universe of Grand Piano this is the world’s most famous actress/singer, and married to a professional pianist. It’s that kind of movie.





Stage-hand is arguing with Cusack and Elijah can hear them, though there’s some weird static going on. Apparently this is some kind of heist. Elijah sees them talking and now he knows for sure stage-hand is the guy. Though it’s becoming vaguely more unclear what’s happening. It has something to do with the unplayable piece and the piano, though how that’s going to make Cusack and stage-hand rich is beyond me at this point.

Cusack is on a diatribe about being a locksmith, the number of keys on the piano, and how little Patrick, eccentric piano genius, cared for his family. Seems as though playing La Cinquette on the piano properly unlocks something. Money or something valuable hidden in the piano? Cusack tells him he helped Patrick build that lock. Cusack tells Elijah he’s a puppet. A genius and a talented musician, but a puppet. Elijah tells him he’s just a petty thief.

Elijah tells him he can see him. Cusack sees him looking directly at him through the rifle scope. But Elijah agrees to play the piece. Cusack tells him to take the first piece easy, save himself for the end. He has to interrupt the conductor to tell them he’s going to play La Cinquette. The crowd is excited. I guess everyone knows the piece.

He’s playing the piece. Cusack tells him to ease up, he’s going to tire out his fingers. He needs to hit those last four bars perfectly. Cusack keeps telling him to calm down, and Elijah tells him to “Shut. The Fuck. Up.”

Come on, I'm playing this in the dark! What more do you want?

Come on, I’m playing this in the dark! What more do you want?





Somewhere inside the piano we can see the mechanisms turning. Things are happening. A lock is being opened. Gears turn, hammers lock into place, and now we’ve come to it. The last four bars. Tom stops playing, the crowd starts clapping, and Cusack is losing his shit. He did something…but it’s unclear what. Did he play it wrong? The crowd is going wild. Cusack tells him he’s a sniveling piece of shit. He played the last note wrong. But the audience didn’t know. He echoes the statement made by the conductor from the beginning. “The audience never knows when you miss a note.”

Cusack wants him to play it again. Sit back down and play it again. Elijah gets Emma to stand and starts making a speech about how good she is for him, and Cusack continues threatening to shoot her. Stage Hand tells him he can’t, everyone’s looking at her. Stage Hand tells Cusack to calm down. Cusack tells Stage Hand to do something, but he has no idea what to do.

Elijah asks Emma to sing for them. She’s apparently a famous singer as well. He has the conductor on stage playing the piano so Emma can sing. Stage Hand is ready to bail on this thing. He’s got two dead bodies to worry about. Cusack won’t let it end. He tells the Stage Hand he spent three years setting this up, and then Elijah hears Cusack kill the Stage Hand, and then he threatens to kill Emmma while she’s singing. Elijah runs for her but drops his earpiece along the way.

Then Cusack makes his first appearance in the movie, knocking Elijah down with the butt of his rifle. Stage Hand is dead, and Cusack wants his money. They wrestle out onto the catwalk above the stage where Cusack is threatening him. Emma sings on. Cusack is choking Elijah with the butt of the gun and Elijah manages to pull the trigger, firing it, and knocking the gun out of Cusack’s hands. Cusack has to climb out to get to the weapon, but Elijah is knocked unconscious. He wakes up just in time to see Cuasck reaching for the gun and kicks him.

A confused John Cusack auditioning for the part of Darth Vader in the new Star Wars movies.

A confused John Cusack auditioning for the part of Darth Vader in the new Star Wars movies.





Now we’re going to have some kind of acrobatic fight on the catwalk. Whatever Elijah has climbed out onto is about to come loose from the ceiling, but Elijah makes it across to another catwalk, leaping just in time but now he’s hanging over the stage. Cusack has to pull him up. Or drop him. Which will he do?

Elijah manages to pull him down with him and they both fall to the stage. Everyone’s screaming. Of course this happens just as Emma ends her song.

Elijah gets up, but Cusack appears to be done. Emma comes to the stage to check on him. He’s pretty badly hurt. He broke his leg.

The true star of the movie. The piano.

The true star of the movie. The piano.





We cut now to bodies being hauled off by the police. There are at least four of them but we’re only seeing two body bags. Elijah and Emma are sitting in the back of an ambulance and Elijah’s leg is bandaged. Emma wants to go home, but Elijah sees the piano, now busted, being loaded onto the truck. He goes to play the piece again (though the piano’s all effed up, so it just sounds like noise). He finishes the four bars and nothing happens.

As he starts to walk out of the truck though he hears some noises. A dinging sound, and a light shines onto his face from the piano. What’s in there? Marcellus Wallace’s soul? We’ll never know because as he bends down to pick it up we go to credits.

Well, isn’t that just annoying? Yeah, that’s all you’re getting because it really did just end there. Because this is a full service review I even waited til the end of the credits and nope, they’re never going to tell you what was in that piano. I’m going to pretend it was a smaller piano made out of gold.

To be fair, Piano concertos would be more interesting if they all had this twist.

To be fair, Piano concertos would be more interesting if they all had this twist.





So, there you have it. Grand Piano. I watched it so you don’t have to. And I give it 3 out of 5 whatevers, cause it wasn’t terrible, but it was damn annoying at the end.

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