A person whose promising career is suddenly sidelined invariably winds up wallowing in self-doubt and embracing cautionary, risk-free measures. In Grand Piano, directed by Eugenio Mira, Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) knows that feeling well.
A young pianist, who once enjoyed the reputation of having the fastest fingers in the business, Tom’s been immobilized on a bed of Saturnine insecurities, trying to get back on track after a terrible bout of stage fright all but decimated his reputation during a concert five years earlier. The reason for the catastrophe was his freezing on the so-called “unplayable” musical piece “La Cinquette,” composed by his beloved and now deceased teacher. Tom hasn’t performed in public since, but now he wants another go at it. As he says during a radio interview, he’s ready for his comeback performance that will be tantamount to a glorious redemption.
Psychologically minded viewers will recognize archetypal Saturn’s signature all over this challenge. The planet rules fear and, until a person works hard to attain self-mastery, no growth can ever happen. Tom, whose wife Emma (Kelly Bishé) is kind and supportive, insists he’s now in charge. Except, early on in this new and hopefully restorative concert performance, a person named Clem (John Cusack) will vie for control over Tom through the music.
Grand Piano’s slyness is that most of this movie is a stage on which Tom can demonstrate exactly how fearless he has become over these last few years. The stakes now are indeed high. It’s evident that Clem has a gun he’s got pointed at Tom and which he can easily redirect to Emma, who’s also in the audience. Under the threat of death, Tom must play the compositions without hitting a wrong note, including the diabolically destructive “La Cinquette.” And, if that musical ditty demands almost inhuman Mercurial keyboard speed, so must Tom’s Mercury-ruled mind (and winged Mercurial feet) outwit Clem.
Of course, there’s more to Clem’s victimization of Tom that I won’t reveal here. In the end, the logic of it all isn’t important. The thrill comes from witnessing Tom master the music as well as his psyche. It’s called quick (Uranus) thinking (Mercury) under duress (Saturn). In other words, a lesson (Saturn) well learned.
Astrology Film Rating: ☿♄♅ (Mercury, Saturn, Uranus)