- 17 Apr 18
Irish documentary about piano students proves slightly uneven.
Many of us have experienced or indeed endured a musical lesson in some form; even if it was merely the horrifically ubiquitous squeaking of 30 primary school children blowing into recorders.
But rarer are those who stick with an instrument, practising daily, and it is those individuals who fall under the ever-empathetic eye of Ken Wardrop in Making The Grade. Following just some of Ireland’s 30,000 piano students as they prepare for their grade examinations, Wardrop’s observation of piano lessons becomes a portrait not just of the individual characters, but of the unique relationships between the students and their teachers. This bond is at heart of the film, even as we see that the pupils’ motivations for pursuing music vary wildly.
We meet Rosa, a smiley 10-year-old who loves pink frilly tutus and skipping, who also happens to be a prodigy. There’s a middle-aged divorced woman whose son has a brain tumour, and who can only play the piano when she’s happy – which, she admits, is rare. And there’s Angie, a girl with cerebral palsy who plays the piano to keep her fingers strong, eschewing the grade system and focusing on pairing her music with rap lyrics she writes herself.
Wardrop’s previous films have proven his ability to get authenticity and emotion from his subjects, and that remains endearing. However, as his interviewees are speaking about a process rather than a beloved person (as they did in Mom And Me and His & Hers), the insight gained in Making The Grade feels more incidental than genuinely impactful. And though the film’s structure neatly ascends the grades, Wardrop doesn’t follow the examinations themselves, which would have offered a natural emotional climax.
Making The Grade is an undeniably pleasant overture, but slightly flat, and in need of a crescendo