Stage fright is a very common fear that can be traced back to the beginning of man. Almost 90% of people struggle with this fear and even some famous names such as Meryl Streep Elvis Presley and Sir Laurence Olivier have had to overcome it. It happens to the best of us, me being one person who struggles with it quite a bit, but you just have to get over it and face the music anyway. Grand Piano is a film that discusses the roots of stage fright and performance anxiety to the very core, showing a pianist coming back from a long absence due to this phobia and having to perform while another man threatens to blow your brains into oblivion if you hit a single wrong note.
Tom Selznick, played by Elijah Wood, is the most talented pianist of his generation and it has been five years since he has performed in front of anybody. This is because of his stage fright which caused him to choke during his last performance. The film begins with Tom on a plane heading to Chicago where his latest performance will be showing. Tom is struggling to keep his cool and the man sitting next to him says that he was once afraid of flying too, but you just got to put your faith in the mechanics. What this man doesn’t know is that Tom is not freaking out due to the plane ride; it’s because of what is waiting for him once he gets off the plane.
At the start of this movie, I noticed that everyone Tom talks to says, “Break a leg.” This is an expression that I hate, mind you. I hate it because it beckons for bad things to come. Why would you tell someone to break a leg? That’s terrible. But it is an expression and will always be there, making me even more nervous to do my public presentation than I was before you told me to “break my leg”. I believe that the constant use of that phrase during the opening of this film calls upon events that will occur later, making you antsy to get on with the show and break the suspense of having to wait for that tragic moment. The moment I am talking about is when Tom realizes that he is being threatened by a man who wants him to have the most flawless performance of his career or he gets shot between the eyes.
Say what you will about “Grand Piano’s” narrative focus, which is a bit messy, but the film is shot beautifully. First time director Eugenio Mira creates an atmosphere through his unsettling and elaborate images, creating a sense of panic within the viewer. The camera flies from one side of the concert hall to the other, and finds Tom, sliding his fingers down the keys with such majesty. It almost makes you forget that this man is about to be blown to kingdom come.
Now like I said before, the narrative structure of this film is, sadly, not as flawless as the direction. The writing wasn’t always so believable and the focus of the film became a bit muted due to a concept that soon becomes a bit overly complicated. It never loses its sense of suspense, but you may get a bit frustrated due to its vague explanations for some of the plot points that occur. You may find yourself lost; I know I did, for some of it due to the lack of explanation for some of the events. I’m still trying to understand what happened at the end there and why it had any importance to the rest of the story. Maybe it was a depiction of him overcoming his stage fright and finishing, what he actually wanted to be, a flawless concert, but it didn’t leave much of an impact on me, which takes away from the overall experience.
“Grand Piano” is a film that depicts a man who must overcome his greatest fear and it shows the roots of those fears in vivid detail. It’s a fear that many, many of us come upon at least once in our lifetime and, for some of us, never overcome. “Grand Piano” may have struggled with a few narrative flaws, but that was the only thing getting in this way of this suspenseful and fascinating film from hitting the bull’s-eye.