Whiplash is one of hell of a ride that will leave you surprised that you walked out of the movie theater alive. 2014 was glittered with a gazillion horror, thriller and action movies but none of them made me grip my seat harder than Whiplash, a movie about freaking music. Not just about music but about the relationship of a music student and a music teacher, one of the most stressed out relationships in film history. Director/writer Damien Chazelle has taken the dull relationship of a teacher and a student, and turned it into a vibrant thriller that is undermined by brilliant social commentary. What does it take to be the next Charlie Parker in a world this competitive? Should a teacher push a student beyond their limits? Would you go through hell to achieve what you want? Carried by two standout performances, the tightest editing of any film this year and an energetic screenplay, Whiplash leaves you more breathless than if you were to run an entire marathon.
Our young protagonist, Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), is practicing on the drums late one night at his music school in New York, supposedly the best in the country. He wants to become the next great drummer. As Andrew is practicing, he manages to catch the ear of the infamous Mr. Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), the most important teacher at the school. Fletcher listens to Andrew’s drumming, shouts a few orders at him and leaves, seemingly dissatisfied. The next day, Fletcher surprisingly invites Andrew over to play at his class. Andrew then realizes that Fletcher is the most hardcore, vulgar, violent and cruel music teacher/coach in the history of music. As the film goes on, we see the progressing psychological battle between Andrew and Fletcher.
I’m just going to start right off the bat by saying J. K. Simmons’ performance as Terence Fletcher is electrifying. J. K. Simmons has never truly achieved much acclaim in the past since he has never gotten strong roles. This is a truly Oscar-worthy performance and he plays his character capably. If they cast the wrong actor to play Terence Fletcher, he could have just came off as a melodramatic and clichéd music teacher but J. K. Simmons adds depth to his character, within all of the screaming and shouting. The film makes us think of Fletcher as the biggest asshole in the universe but we understand why he acts like this. Fletcher believes that his abusive amount of pressure is the only way to create a diamond. Although his methods of achieving this are questionable, we can’t disagree with his point. In a society where everybody gets a medal for trying, it might be possible we are not helping our youth at all. Another great aspect of Simmons’ performance is how he delivers insults. Fletcher has probably some of the most inventive (and hilarious) insults I have ever seen. If you were to make a YouTube video for best movie insults, all of the insults in Whiplash would be able to fill up the entire runtime of the video. Simmons delivers these insults with such rapidness and smoothness that you would think they were all improvised. He’s that awesome.
Another standout performance comes from Miles Teller. Miles Teller is delivering more and more impressive performances every year. Unlike most teen actors, Teller has a lot of maturity while still maintaining a likable persona. I think the best part of Teller’s performance as Andrew is his ability to make us relate to him. I know this sounds like something super typical but let me explain. He could have been this super confident student that is extremely determined to get what he wants. Yeah sure, we are all determined to do something but were we always that confident about it? Teller walks on a thin line for his character, he acts confident but also acts insecure. Andrew knows that he has a unique skill in drumming but doesn’t know if the world will appreciate what he has to offer. This instantly makes Andrew a far more relatable and developed character, as well as earning bonus points for Teller’s great performance.
The screenplay does a fantastic job at creating a psychological battle between Andrew and Fletcher. Fletcher attacks Andrew from all angles, psychologically, physically and even emotionally. Andrew tries to overcome Fletcher by also becoming extremely aggressive. The tension rises slowly between these two characters as the film progresses.
The outstanding editing by Tom Cross assists in growing tension. The film cuts to the hits of the drum and the beats of the music. Rarely do editors nowadays edit with a rhythm. The rhythmic editing in Whiplash makes it far more captivating and intense than any action movie or thriller this year, especially during the finale of the film.
There is one particular scene in the film I feel not enough people are talking about. That scene is the dinner table scene. Andrew’s father invites some friends over for dinner and they talk about how their son is doing super well in football. Andrew tries to get into the conversation by talking about his drumming but none of them seem to care. My point is, this scene clearly shows Andrew’s difficulty in expressing his love for drumming to other people and how those other people fail to appreciate Andrew’s passion for drumming. For many young aspiring artists, this is what they experience, including myself. It takes that one special parent (or parents) to understand that their child wants to embrace a form of art as a career. Luckily, my parents have been able to understand what I saw in movies. Still, at some dinner table conversations with other adults, they seem to view my passion for film as unimportant and always try to diverge the conversation to economics, school grades, etc. This hidden theme of the film is a hugely important one and it truly hits home for me.
As for criticisms, there is none. This is an amazing drama film with two stellar performances, a sharp screenplay, inspiring themes and ideas, and super intensity. I implore you to go see this film. If the film were a concert, I would call for an encore. The title, Whiplash, is referring to a song often played in the film but I think it refers to the extreme sense of exhaustion you will have after watching the film. Fletcher says in the film that the two most dangerous words in the English language are “good job”. I would have to agree because saying that Whiplash did a “good job” does it no justice. Whiplash did not just do a “good job” it’s the best film of the entire year. That’s more like it. I give Whiplash an A+.
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