Movie Review: Whiplash

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An aspiring drummer suffers under the tutelage of a brilliant but abusive professor.

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Damien Chazelle, 2014

Driven and focused on his music, drummer Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller) studies jazz at a highly competitive conservatory. Andrew’s desire to be “one of the greats” makes him arrogant, and he isn’t well-liked at his school. Like many of the students, he wants to garner the attention of one of the teachers, Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons). Though he devotes most of his time to studying the drums, Andrew makes time to go to the movies with his father (Paul Reiser). While there, he connects with and starts dating the ticket taker, Nicole (Melissa Benoist). Once Andrew finally, inevitably catches Fletcher’s attention, he is invited to join the elite band that Fletcher leads. However, Fletcher’s cruel methods start to take their toll on Andrew. He tortures his students and particularly Andrew, belittling him and escalating to physical abuse when Andrew fails to live up to his impossible standards. Andrew becomes obsessed with proving himself to Fletcher, and his new-found obsession endangers his relationships, his mental health, and his safety.

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I’d heard a lot of really positive things about Whiplash when it was nominated for the Oscars. I hadn’t heard anything when the film came out, but a lot of people cited it as a favourite. I have to say, I don’t see it. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of connection with the story, being someone who lacks much ambition, but there’s an almost histrionic extremeness to the interactions in this movie that made it hard for me to connect to. I can’t help but think that if this had really happened, surely there’d be at least one person in the band who would stand up to Fletcher. I mean, the guy <i>throws a chair at Andrew</i> during rehearsal. His language alone is enough to get him fired – it’s offensive on almost every level, swinging at the students with homophobia, sexism, transphobia, racism, and anything else he can use to hurt them. The fact that his band is made up entirely of men speaks to either his sexism or the film’s, or perhaps both. Fletcher is such an extreme character that he’s hard to believe in – it’s only the leads’ strong performances that save the film from melodrama.

Fletcher is a really meaty role for veteran character actor JK Simmons to sink his teeth into, and he does so with relish. He pulls Fletcher back from total madness a number of times, and there’s a manipulative charm to his behaviour that makes him more believable. He’s matched step for step by Miles Teller, who goes toe to toe with Simmons in the film’s big confrontation scenes. This kind of arrogant, vulnerable, almost unlikeable genius is a perfect role for Teller, who is always smarmy but always watchable despite it. The film has a really nice, unique look to it. The movie, and by extension Andrew, are most at home in the dingy nightlife, and the brightness during daytime scenes is almost overwhelming and amps up the tension. The soundtrack is fantastic, and the performance of the titular piece at the end of the film is magnetic and well-performed. The film has a great soundtrack, and it gives good insight into the inner life of a musician. If the script didn’t veer into credulity-stretching over the top drama once too often, it would be truly great; as it is, it’s a promising start but doesn’t quite feel like a complete film.

Whiplash on IMDb

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3 thoughts on “Movie Review: Whiplash

  1. I know some (my father included) couldn’t get past the ‘credulity stretching’ manner of J.K. Simmon’s character – mostly because he felt that kind of behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated by the school authorities , but I think as an audience, we have to allow the story to tell itself, without the inhibition of applying real-world rules. Yes, everything was heightened, but I think that was part of the pleasure. It was an exaggeration, but one that was by design.

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