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Whiplash (2014)

March 30, 2015

Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons,
Director: Damien Chazelle

“Can’t? When did you become a fucking expert on what I can or cannot do, you fucking weepy-willow shit sack?”

Bottom Line: My first thought concerning Whiplash was that I liked it but that I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it and my second thought was that I needed to watch it again. Immediately. For a film that doesn’t have a ton of depth for its lead characters, it still managed to pretty much blow me away. This is a story about passion and how far one is willing to go to achieve their goals. It’s a jazz-fueled version of 8 Mile with drums instead of rapping. Only better – and that’s coming from a hip-hop aficionado and Eminem fanatic that could really care less about jazz music.

Whiplash seems to be saying that greatness can be achieved if you’re willing to strive to improve despite any abuse or obstacles thrown your way. Miles Teller’s character Andrew Neimann is an aspiring drummer attending an elite music school where the top jazz ensemble is conducted by a dominating, completely unforgiving, in-your-face-and-over-the-top, totally obscene asshole named Terence Fletcher – played to absolute perfection by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher’s teaching style is 100% out of line. I really can’t imagine that a) no one on the outside knows what’s going on or b) that he could possibly get away with the abuse he constantly flings at his students. That doesn’t make it any less fun to watch though. Some of the interactions are truly horrifying, but Simmons is so good it will fill you with glee watching Fletcher terrorize these poor kids. Fletcher states that “the next Charlie Parker would never get discouraged,” but it’s a bit vague if Whiplash is advocating his teaching style as a means of reaching greatness or whether greatness can be achieved despite someone like Fletcher doing everything possible to stomp out any trace of dignity his pupils might have left. Either way, Fletcher provides a great antagonist – if not a respectable mentor – and makes the film far more enjoyable than it otherwise would be.

Whiplash is also about passion versus balance – a theme I can relate to concerning my own relationship with poker. It’s easy to imagine a life where I eat, sleep, and breathe poker and literally think of nothing else – I know I’m capable of it – but it also sounds awfully lonely. In Whiplash, Andrew Niemann chooses to devote his life to drums, at the cost of everything else: he has no friends, he tells his girlfriend that she will just get in the way of his passion, he looks down on his extended family, and even his relationship with his father – his one true ally – seems cold and distant. He might eventually gain the respect of his fellow band members, but it’s doubtful he will ever earn their fondness or support. He’s really not a very likable guy which makes rooting for him a bit difficult. I do not want to be that person – even if it means I may not reach the pinnacle of my chosen field.

Whiplash is easily one of my favorite films of 2014. J.K. Simmons is every bit deserving of the Oscar he won for his performance. Though his character is brutal and harsh, he’s also hilarious and a total joy to watch. I’m not a big Miles Teller fan, but I felt like his performance in this movie was extraordinary and highly underrated. Director Damien Chazelle deserves a ton of credit for making everything feel incredibly authentic in this film. Both lead actors look like experts – at drumming and conducting, respectively – and the editing is so crisp that each instrument is highlighted at such a precise moment that it’s clear that the filmmakers have a deep understanding of composition. Finally, Whiplash has one of the best climaxes to a film I’ve ever seen. You will literally hold your breath for 15 minutes straight.

What Whiplash lacks in character depth, it more than makes up for with amazing performances, hilarious dialogue, heart-stopping scenes, and a remarkable climax.

Replay Value: I watched it twice in a week. During my second viewing, I watched several sequences multiple times. I truly loved it.
Sequel Potential: There is more to this story, but exploring it would be a mistake, as this particular arc reaches a satisfying conclusion, and further adventures would be far less interesting.
Oscar Potential: J.K. Simmons deservedly won Best Supporting Actor; so did the editing and sound mixing teams. It was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Miles Teller did not get nominated and it’s difficult for me to agree that Bradley Cooper was better in American Sniper than Teller was here. Also, Damien Chazelle may have deserved more recognition for his work as director.

Grade: 8/10 (Excellent)

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