Rosetta Basilio (Megan Follows) is an autistic piano savant growing up in The '30s and The '40s. Her mother Regina (Teresa Stratas) sees her as a lost cause who will never accomplish anything, while her older sister Franny (Amanda Plummer) does her best to foster her gifts and help her gain independence. As Rosetta grows older and the older children move out, tensions grow worse and Rosetta and Franny's relationship with their mother deteriorates.
Under the Piano contains examples of:
- And Starring: Teresa Stratas as Regina Basilio, with John Juliani, James Carroll.
- Commonality Connection: Franny was born with a paralyzed arm, and her disability helps her become close to Rosetta.
- Cry into Chest: Franny cries into the housekeeper Mrs. Syms' shoulder after Regina fires her.
- Department of Redundancy Department: A doctor wonders if Rosetta's "mental illness" was caused by a "congenital birth defect."
- Driven to Suicide: The movie opens with Rosetta downing a bottle of ammonia.
- Eyes Always Averted: As a toddler, Rosetta refuses to look her parents in the face.
- Family Versus Career: Regina gave up a promising career in opera to raise a family. She admits that she did it because she was scared of success and thought marriage was the safer option, and she sees Rosetta's disability as punishment for throwing away her gift.
- Institutional Apparel: Rosetta wears a straitjacket in the mental hospital.
- Lobotomy: Implied. At the mental hospital, Franny sees a woman in a wheelchair staring blankly and asks the orderly what's wrong with her. The orderly replies, "Hazel spent a couple of weeks at Stillwater. They decided they had to control her violence."
- My Beloved Smother: Regina always had this problem, but it gets especially bad after Franny gets married. Regina moves Rosetta's bed into her room so she can watch her sleep and forces her to stay in bed until Regina gets up on non-workdays.
- Saw It in a Movie Once: Rosetta attempts suicide with ammonia because she once saw an opera that ends with the heroine drinking poison from a similar brown bottle.
- Sensory Overload: As a child, Rosetta becomes overloaded in the marketplace and starts banging her head against a crate.
- Single Tear: Regina sheds one after she overhears Franny talking about her to Mrs. Syms and saying "She never gave us any reason to stay!"
- The Speechless: As a young child, Rosetta never makes any vocal noises at all, and for several years after that, she only hums and never speaks.
- Title In: Used every time the movie jumps around in time, with captions like "1937," "1955," and "Six Weeks Later."
- Verbal Tic: Rosetta has a habit of ending phrases and sentences with "Absolutely."