Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Musical Instrument That Sinks: The Piano

The Good: Beautifully shot, Well-acted
The Bad: Bland characters, Non-existent plot, Murky message, Tone
The Basics: Good looking, but The Piano is otherwise a film not worth your time and effort. Unrelentingly depressing and pointless. Unsatisfying in almost every way.

Having just seen the truly magnificent film The Red Violin, I decided to try my luck with another critically acclaimed movie revolving around a musical instrument. If I've concluded anything today, it's that violins are vastly superior to pianos. At least where independent films are concerned.

The Piano follows the brief adventure of Ada (played by Holly Hunter), an apparently mute woman for whom the word "adventure" is certainly relative. She arrives at the beginning of the film in New Zealand, apparently, with her traveling supplies, her daughter, and her piano. Ada defines herself as someone who simply does not want to talk and her daughter is quickly characterized as young and impish enough to spread rumors about her silence.

Ada communicates through her sign language and mostly through her piano. The notes and chords she plays are indicative of her moods. Her sole form of emotive self expression is through the piano. Why? Your guess is as good as mine, it's one of the many holes the film leaves at the end.

Ada arrives in the states for an arranged marriage to a typically arrogant colonist played by Sam Neill. He employs George (played by Harvey Kietel) as an intermediary between himself and the natives. George becomes instantly fascinated with Ada and her piano.

What results is Ada's frustrations with her new husband are released upon George. The film then proceeds into a fairly pointless series of escapades and encounters between Ada and George and Ada and her husband. It doesn't take terribly long for her hate for George to waver and passions to ignite. It's truly as cheesy and romance-novel themed as I made it sound. And yes, there is a ripped bodice.

When Ada's husband finds out, bad things happen and it's sufficiently disturbing enough for me to never want to see the film again. And I'm not terribly squeamish.

Where The Piano fails is in almost every way. The plot is non-existent or so dumbed down as to feel that way. It views like a dime store romance novel. None of the characters are particularly compelling either. They are all reacting, not acting. That is they don't create situations, they react to what happens to them only. It's a common enough character flaw. It's disturbing though in this context because so many bad things happen.

In fact, The Piano is a study in bad things happening. There are no bright spots, there is no redemption, bad things just keep happening. Everyone seems motivated by power. They all want to control each other and in the most base ways. It's disappointing. Sad.

What works is the acting. Holly Hunter and Sam Neill give their usual wonderful performances. The true gem of the film is Anna Paquin, who plays Ada's daughter. She steals the show and she won an academy award for it. The acting is fine, the characters are worthless, bland, vacuous. They're pathetic.

The only other reason to watch this film is the look of it. It is beautifully filmed. The costumes are gorgeous. It's a shame that nothing decent happens in the amazing vistas and the characters in the costumes are almost non-existent.

For other dramas, please check out my reviews of:
American Beauty
Flash Of Genius


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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