(I think I have been so impacted by this incredibly immersive flick that I’m channeling J.K. Simmons’ foul-mouthed, corrosively-brilliant jazz music instructor Terence Fletcher. Simmons will no doubt be the lone Oscar-winner from Whiplash, and his acknowledgment will be richly deserved.)
Based on the real-life experiences of writer/director Damien Chazelle, who performed in the Princeton High School studio band, Whiplash tells a small tale in epic brushstrokes, a two-man character drama with the pacing and tension of a slasher film. Simmons’ bullying Fletcher is an instructor at the fictitious Shaffer Conservatory, and Andrew Neiman, as underplayed extraordinarily by the Oscar-robbed Miles Teller, is a first-year student who aspires to be Buddy Rich and has the social graces of Genghis Khan. These two musically gifted misanthropes are a match made in hell, and the fireworks that erupt as Fletcher uses every abusive trick in the book to inspire “greatness” from his protege are horrifying, visceral, thrilling, and, in Fletcher’s defense, effective.
Teller’s Neiman is a super-talented, uber-driven simp who treats his doting father (Paul Reiser, a loving portrait of justifiable parental anxiety) with courteous disdain and his momentary girlfriend (Glee’s Melissa Benoist showing refreshing depth in a cameo role) as a roadblock to his wunderkind aspirations. The film and Teller make no attempt to victimize Neiman – he is not very likable but he is completely relatable. We all have had a moment (or two) where the desire for fame or success or advancement lead us down a soulless, soul-sucking path into the arms of a sure-minded, deal-making devil.
Fifty-plus years ago, Whiplash would have been a spectacular episode of Playhouse 90 with Lee J. Cobb as the teacher and Martin Sheen as the student. Chazelle’s confident direction has that classic series in its DNA, and Whiplash has all the sweaty, anxious discomfort of the best allegories. Unlike Birdman, which (albeit deftly) eviscerates performers’ egomania and obsession with “craft” in a rather smug and self-satisfied insular way, Whiplash reveals the raw, nasty, competitive ugliness underpinning too many arts cultures – the kind of crucible where a teacher/director plays emperor/tyrant/god in a tightly-fenced kingdom, achieving amazing results but at the cost of everyone’s humanity. The film’s denouement is a brilliant war of sidelong glances, sweat, blood, and musical cues all set to the hypnotically propulsive jazz standby “Caravan.”
As I sit here watching the Grammy Awards (at this moment, the ever delightful Tom Jones in a duet with fabulous Lady-Tom-Jones-in-training Jessie J), I can’t help but reflect on what the various nominees and winners have endured and inflicted in their various meteoric ascents, descents, and comebacks. That’s the power of a film like Whiplash. While the film narrows its gaze on the misanthropy inherent in the jazz world, the cat-and-mouse inter-generational combat of instructor and student apples to any art form, industry, or workplace. Don’t miss this tightly coiled, perfect little/big film.
Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital)
In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.
My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.
Good review. Teller and Simmons are very good here, and add a lot of dimensions to these characters that make them seem more human and fully-realized.
On Sun, Feb 8, 2015 at 9:18 PM, Reel Roy Reviews wrote:
and thank you!!
EXCEPTIONAL REVIEW….AS ALWAYS! sounds superb…and I have been grappling with INHERENT VICE which puzzled me, entertained me, disgusted me? and I THOUGHT I did NOT LIKE IT. many hours later I realized that I loved it…what is it with me and this director…this “show” bashes a lot of folks who deserve to be bashed many close to home in teensy towns like this one. we are always several decades behind sunny CA! guess that makes me a hippie at this late date! me and Joaquin joined at the hip!
too funny! I told you! you and this director do have that dynamic – I wish the movie were still here – I will have to wait for DVD. your description sounds intriguing – would love for you and joaquin to collaborate one day!! that would be fun!
and I endured a band director nearly killing me in high school and my dad witnessed the entire episode, too!
Then you will definitely relate to this movie!!
me and Joaquin…only in my dreams…did you know his hippie kid name was LEAF! probably as in LEAF ME ALONE? I can relate to that sentiment! 😉 yep, I wished that daddy would have boxed his thuggish ears…and the guy was highly revered…but I was just happy I did not play a flute or instrument of some ilk in his marine band!
Well Roy you have done it again. Wonderful review and I agree whole heartily that Teller and Simmons deserve this award for their acting ability and for making me believe that they believed in what they were doing. Thank you so much.!!!!
My pleasure, Kat! Thanks for the kind words
i have really, really been wanting to see this flick and now i’m even more excited )
I think it’s going to be gone soon – there was only one showing at the Rave, Beth – 4:55 pm this week – though it’s likely on DVD soon
This had not even been on my radar. Now it is at the top of my list.
oh, you will most assuredly love this one, Becca – the language is pretty salty so not for your kids (yet) but the message and the concept are definitely something I know interests you. it comes out on dvd on 2/24 and, while it’s not longer at the Rave in Ypsi, it might still be showing somewhere out your way?
On Thu, Feb 12, 2015 at 11:46 PM, Reel Roy Reviews wrote:
Pingback: The Movies We Loved in 2014 — By Friends of the Blog « Reel Roy Reviews
Pingback: Guest review … Blood on the Cymbals: The Splashy Brutality of Whiplash « Reel Roy Reviews
Pingback: “The failures of my generation are the opportunities of yours.” Fantastic Four (2015) « Reel Roy Reviews
Pingback: “We may be evolved, but down deep we’re still animals.” Disney’s Zootopia « Reel Roy Reviews
Pingback: ”They worship everything and value nothing.” La La Land « Reel Roy Reviews
Pingback: “Dog Almighty.” A Thanksgiving analysis of the films Boy Erased, The Front Runner, and Isle of Dogs « Reel Roy Reviews