“Whiplash” made quite an impression amongst film critics and festival goers when it was released late last year. This is the second music related film from young director Damien Chazelle, who himself, is a drummer and I’m guessing that’s where the inspiration for the film came from. Whiplash is about a promising young drummer whose studying at an elite conservatory where his dream of becoming one of the world’s best players is tested by a ruthless and demanding instructor. The teacher will stop at nothing to help students reach their full potential. The story focuses on Andrew (played by Miles Teller), who comes from a family of underachievers. He has the raw ability but not the polish required to be truly great and quickly learns through Fletcher (J.K Simmons) that his dream won’t come easy. The film also stars Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist and Austin Stowell.
Films like “Once” and “August Rush” have covered the topic of gifted musicians but not in the same way that Whiplash does. This is a little different because it doesn’t have sub-plots like the aforementioned. It’s a film primarily about drumming. The narrative is very clear from the outset, this is a teacher/student relationship between Andrew and Fletcher. It’s about hard work and the determination that’s required for you to be the best. I’ve seen Miles Teller in a few films but his wonderful performance as a guilt ridden teen, in the film “Rabbit Hole” was a stand out. He’s played the drums for most of his life and this was a definite vehicle for him to showcase that talent. It’s rare enough that a person excel in one thing, but two, that’s just showing off (haha). I read about what Miles did in preparation for the role, the hours and hours or practice. He really wanted to tackle the challenge head on and that’s obvious in his great performance.
It’s really Simmons that steals the show though. Fletcher projects such an ugly persona that you really don’t know what to make of him. You question how he ever became a teacher in the first place. Brazen and Crass at times but seemingly with the best intentions of raising the bar for his students. I was really happy J.K was cast in the film because he’s been a very solid actor over a long period of time. He hasn’t had the chance to show that talent quite like he does here. It’s a richly shot film with a lot of great editing. During scenes with the band rehearsing you see a lot of what Miles is doing on the kit. When the focus isn’t on him but rather the intensity of Fletcher, the camera is right there gauging that fragile temper. The unique editing of the band preparing their instruments and the precision in which they do it, makes for an interesting cut. To top it off you know with a film like this you’re going to get some great jazz music and you most certainly do.
I’m not a huge fan of this genre of music but you really get into the intricacies of the time signatures in which it’s played. If you’re a musician like me, you will appreciate how difficult it can be. If you’re not, than this is a first hand look at what goes into it. Some viewers may not like the un-conventional style in which the film begins. You’re opening act normally consists of introducing a character, quite substantially doing so and setting the tone for the rest of the film. We find out who this story is about quickly enough, but interestingly without a clear-cut introduction to when or where this is set. The viewer picks up part way through Mile’s journey, who knows how far he has come or how much further he has to go. I thought it was a nice touch to see a movie start in this manner. It centers mostly around dialogue between Fletcher and Andrew and or the other members of the symphony. There is no action and the screenplay avoids most of the regular tropes you might be likely to see in a film like this. The music scenes are a plenty but it’s really the ongoing battle between the two leads that keeps you engaged. When you have two great actors and some really good material it can breathe new life into a scene.
Some will be disappointed that Whiplash doesn’t reach any deeper for a conclusion or solitary reason as to why Fletcher is the way he is. Is it just his personality? Or does he just aim to get the best out of people by any means necessary?. Andrew’s family was irrelevant to the story other than becoming a bit of fodder for Fletcher to fire his way. The father projects very little personality and I couldn’t make out who the others at the dinner table scene were. It’s not important it’s just that one scene of dialogue, I guess to show how under valued Andrew was amongst family and friends (if that’s who they were). There are no sub-plots, so if you aren’t interested in drumming or one of the lead actors you might feel a little underwhelmed. The relationship and dynamic between Nicole, a girl who works at the local movie theater and Andrew didn’t amount too much. The writing needed to consist of a couple more scenes involving the two. In the beginning, it didn’t seem like things were serious between them, yet when Andrew has to make a tough call he receives a very emotional response from Nicole. Apparently they had a certain connection but the audience is unaware of it because they don’t share enough screen time .
Moreover, hinting that something may happen with Nicole and Andrew at the climax of the film is just misleading. By referencing a joke similar to one earlier on in the film you’re led into believing there might be a reconciliation and there’s not. I like my character development but I’m not saying its necessary in every film. However, an idea that only explores one aspect can become a little bland without more of a background. I was interested in Whiplash and it worked for me though it wouldn’t have hurt to include some references to the past. The profanity is rather excessive but forgivable in the context of the story. Though after Fletcher’s 14th rant and constant insults you’d think somebody would have tried putting him in his place but nobody ever does. His insults made for some good black comedy but didn’t allow you to really care about him. There is only one or two scenes showing a slightly lukewarm side, of an otherwise demeaning and ruthless Fletcher.
Whiplash is a very well made film. It’s not for everybody though and some won’t take much interest in the musical aspect. Fortunately, the emotional responses and the drive that it takes to succeed is something most of us can relate too. Teller and Simmons are a wonderful duo who deliver powerhouse performances and the music is wonderful. “There are no two words more harmful in the English language than good job” and therefore I won’t close with that, instead I say Well done!
My rating for “Whiplash” is 7.5/10