Sunday, January 4, 2015

Whiplash: You'll Never Think of Jazz the Same Way Again

I remember when I was in high school, there was a teacher that made everyone incredibly nervous. The kind of teacher that would tell you to read the footnotes on the pages of the text book and then quiz you on them the next day. The kind of teacher that would stop and stare at you if you didn't have the right answer, and tell you to look it up on the spot, instead of moving on to another person that had their hand raised. He scared the absolute crap out of me.

Fletcher, of Whiplash, makes my high school teacher look like Santa Claus.

The film starts off with a young drummer named Andrew. A shy 19-year-old, Andrew is a student at Shaffer University (a fake school made to mirror the likes of top arts universities like Juliard). Second chair drummer in a class band, he catches the eye of Fletcher, the razor-sharp conductor of the school's studio band. Testing his strengths and weaknesses, Andrew endures psychological and physical abuse at the hands of his teacher to remain in his position as the drummer of the band. The film begs the questions: What is the true way to realize an person's talent? What is the cost of success? And how far are you willing to go to get it?

Could you handle this every day? 'Cause I could not.

I had heard that this movie was impeccable, and I really have to agree. I can't remember being as tense watching a movie since Gravity, and the fact that the film largely relies on psychological games to achieve this effect is nothing short of impressive.

Teller is absolutely brilliant as the understated Andrew. Having loved him in The Spectacular Now, he really gets to show his acting chops playing a more dynamic character. His transformation into the cocky, outspoken musician (that quite creepily ends up mirroring that of J.K. Simmons's character Fletcher) is totally believeable. What keeps the movie so captivating is Andrew's self-discipline, and his sheer will power at being able to bend and not break. And you expect him to break. Things come to a head several times within the story, and just when you think he'll up and quit -- he just keeps practicing harder.


That being said, and on the flipped side of things, the acting done by J. K. Simmons is nothing short of masterful. His most memorable role in my mind before stepping into the theater is when he played the father of a pregnant teenager in Juno. (And of course his role as the spokesperson for Farmers Insurance.) But honestly, the reign of terror that he unleashes on his entire band, and on Andrew specifically, has wiped the image of those good-natured characters from my mind. He is mind-bogglingly ruthless. Putting both the bands he conducts as a whole and the students within them on the line -- just to make a point -- you've got no choice but to believe the worst of this man.

And yet, one thing that the movie also does incredibly well is whisper the question: "...Is it worth it?"

Fletcher reflects at one point that there are no two words more damaging than "Good job." Students that get mollified are only then encouraged to accomplish the status quo. Students that are challenged by looking stupid react instinctively by practicing harder so that it never happens again. Andrew, instead of breaking under the massive weight of all of the psychological torment, only bounces back by practicing harder and getting better. So, the question it worth it?

Absolutely mesmerizing. I can only imagine the physical toll that this took on Teller, as he looks about ready to pass out or break something a few times. And wonderful score. Hope this ups everyone's jazz intake.

9.5 outa 10. Honestly. Very good.


  1. Excellent review! I'm so mad I missed this in theaters. My theater had this for two weeks and I missed it. And it doesn't come out on DVD until Feb! The wait will drive me nuts.

    1. Thanks Brittani! It was the kind of movie that I was a little afraid to watch, honestly. But I'm glad I did. At least the release is only a month away! :)

  2. I hate myself for missing this when it was in our local theater for like a week and a half. I need this movie. Incredible review.

    1. Haha, not exactly a comfortable movie. Came out of the theater and had to calm down with a cigarette haha. But I guess that's how you know it's good!