Phone Booth goes tone deaf in this 2013 thriller about a concert pianist (Elijah Wood) and a sniper (John Cusack) who threatens to kill him if he gets a single note wrong.
Rather than Liszt all the things obviously wrong with Grand Piano (including the fact that pretending to play the piano is not Elijah Wood’s forte, and that director Eugenio Mira is no James Ivory), I want to focus on one aspect of this shitshow: that it’s written by Damien Chazelle of Whiplash and La La Land fame, and that it’s his warped misunderstanding of music that dooms the project from the start.
Look, you and I both know that threatening to kill someone unless they play perfectly is not going to make them play perfectly. It’s like being yelled at during a driving lesson. But Chazelle believes so strongly that the threat of violence is the key to great performance (let’s call this Chazelle’s Fallacy) that he’s made it the thrust of both Grand Piano and Whiplash. It might even explain Ryan Gosling’s vocal performance in La La Land.
For totally baffling and illogical reasons, Cusack needs this piece played note-perfectly, chooses Wood’s notoriously mistake-prone pianist for the task and thinks he’s guaranteed results by threatening to shoot him. This plan took 3 years for Cusack to come up with by the way. So the film rests completely on Chazelle’s Fallacy and would only work if it were true.
Grand Piano confirms the suspicion that everything Chazelle knows about music could be daubed on a single piano key with enough room left over to write “Damien Chazelle is a fraud.” A quick YouTube search shows that concert pianists seldom use sheet music, but here (as in Whiplash) it forms a key plot point. Wood also wanders off stage and operates his BlackBerry while playing complex piano pieces, calling into question Chazelle’s entire Handel on reality.
Proving that you can’t polish a turd any more than you can tune a fish, Grand Piano is a film so off-the-scale stupid I can only assume that Chazelle wrote it while someone threatened to shoot him. And if that’s not the case, maybe somebody should.