Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Whiplash (2014)

Jazz. Nice. I'm not the biggest fan of jazz music, but it's hard to deny that it's the type of music that often seems to require the most dedication and skill from those who practice it.

Whiplash is all about a young man (Andrew Neiman, played by Miles Teller) who wants to be one of the great jazz musicians. He's a drummer, and over the moon when he's picked out from his class at Shaffer Conservatory to take a place in the band being conducted by the famous Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). It soon becomes clear, however, that Simmons won't settle for anything less than the best. He demands perfection from his musicians, hoping to push them to a point that makes or breaks them. More often than not, it's the latter result.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, this isn't highly original stuff, and some have complained that it's ill-informed and misguided, at best. The battle of wills between master and pupil, the musician dedicating so much of his blood, sweat and tears to his art, even a climax that leads to what you could loosely term as a final battle. Forgive the pun, this hits a lot of familiar beats. Yet it does everything so brilliantly that viewers won't mind, and may even embrace, the moments that seem stereotypical.

It's hard to decide who is better between Teller and Simmons. The former has alternately entertained and annoyed me in some of his roles, but he easily earns a lot of the praise that has been heaped upon him for this performance. It's a hugely demanding, physical role, and Teller nails every moment. Simmons would seem to have the easier role, he gets to cut loose and be an absolute monster for most of his scenes, but that should take nothing away from just how great he is. The movie lives and dies by their performances, and I think the effusive praise aimed at it from so many, including myself, tells you that they don't disappoint. Paul Reiser also does well, playing Teller's father. He may not be AS supportive as he could be, but he certainly wants the best for him, even if he's not sure how to go about it. And Melissa Benoist also makes a good impression as Nicole, a young woman that our main character falls for. But can anyone dedicated to something so passionately also maintain a relationship?

If you really dislike jazz, or drumming, then this may end up grating on you. It's unrelenting, as it should be, dragging the viewer alongside the main characters as practice follows practice follows practice. Blisters are covered over with band-aids, hands are dunked in ice water, and skin is constantly in danger of being broken, in more ways than one.

If you're after a fantastic film featuring two stellar lead performances then I have to say . . . . . . . . yes, you know what I'm about to say . . . this is hard to beat.


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  1. Just watched this the other night and really can't stop thinking about it. I agree on some level that it tells a familiar story, but I don't think I've ever seen it told quite this way. It has sparked at least three separate conversations between the femalien and I about the notions of focus, goals, encouragement (and discouragement), relationships, as well as whether Fletcher is truly a monster (as many critics have labeled him) or whether he's just willing to be unpopular in order to accomplish his goals. It's clear he's someone who wished he could have been a "great" like Charlie Parker or Buddy Rich, but just didn't have the chops. But that doesn't mean he doesn't want to see (and perhaps be in some way responsible for) a new one show up on the scene. I really, really loved this film and glad to see you did as well, based on the high rating. I wish the film itself were getting the love as well as Simmons, but let's hope that his performance and accolades get more people to sit down with it.

    1. Yeah, it's familiar but more commonly shown in many fight movies imo. And then theremail are the Full Metal Jacket similarities too.
      I think Fletcher is a mix of outright monster and someone willing to push and push others to unlock their full potential, but the latter is what makes him such a monster, even though there are shades of humanity buried deep.
      Glad we're on the same songsheet here too ;-)

    2. *theremail = there (no idea what was happening with phone spellchecker just then)