Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash-Movie-Poster-2

Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Production Companies: Bold Films, Blumhouse Productions, Right of Way Films
Stars: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
Genre: Drama

What It’s About: A first-year student at a prestigious music school struggles to meet his full potential while under the guidance of an overly demanding mentor.

How I Watched It: Alone in my apartment. Evening.

Thoughts: Andrew (Teller) is a drummer, but being any drummer just won’t do. He wants to be one of the greats–he wants to be the next Buddy Rich. He thinks that he’ll stop at nothing…and then he meets Terence Fletcher (Simmons). Fletcher has a unique way of pushing someone past their limits to help them achieve greatness. The question is: where do you draw the line?

Wow. Ya know…there’s really not a lot to this story if you think about it. A fresh-blooded freshman pushes himself to achieve the unreachable, and then a hard-ass mentor comes in and takes him to limits that he never knew existed before. That’s really the core of it. There’s lots of music, and the practicing of music, and some slight views of backstory…but holy fucking hell does this movie keep you glued to the screen. This isn’t someone trying to learn “Wipeout”, so hold on to your butts.

Or your surfboard. Whichever.

Or your surfboard. Whichever.

The title of the film is attributed to a jazz piece played by the Studio Band in the film, but it references so much more than that. The way the film was directed and shot, makes you feel as though you’re being whip-lashed yourself. While sometimes, the camera work was actually jerking back and forth to create this feel, the performances are what really makes you feel it. J.K. Simmons’ constant state of being positive, and then negative, leave you in a constant state of disquiet. I think my neck may actually hurt a little bit, but in a good way.

Alright. Acting.
HOLY FUCKING J.K. SIMMONS. I know he won the Academy Award for best supporting actor, and that man deserved it and so much more. I’ve been a fan of J.K. for a while now, but he’s always sort of been a “that guy” in films…never really someone at the forefront. His performance was top-fucking-notch. I could honestly not read his character from one minute to the next. I felt as though I was being harassed just as much as Andrew while watching. On the surface, he plays uppity-music-know-it-all-asshole extremely well. He’s never satisfied and is always looking for more, and he demands that his students keep up or get left behind. But what really sold me on his portrayal of Fletcher was how well he walked the fine line of showing that he cared. He cares more about these kids and about the music than anyone else–he may be hesitant to show it–but it bleeds through every once in a while. The scene where he’s telling his band about the former student who had passed away almost killed me. Ugh. Ku-dos, Mr. Simmons.

I’ve had high hopes for Miles Teller ever since I saw him in the film adaptation of the David Lindsay-Abaire play Rabbit Hole. He’s a brilliant young actor, and I look forward to him taking on more dramatic roles like this one. I’m not sure how much actually drumming he had to learn for this role, but he managed to sell it even if he wasn’t actually doing all of the performing. And I don’t mean to judge, but he does have quite the “drummer face”, but that’s good–makes it seem more realistic. There were some scenes in this movie (which I’ll save for spoilers) that I just wanted to give this guy a hug. There was so much passion and determination in his performance, and I bought every second of it.

Let’s talk soundtrack for a minute. The title song “Whiplash” was composed by Hank Levy. I’m not going to pretend to be some sort of scholar when it comes to Jazz music, but there are some pretty great tunes on this soundtrack. A few of the tracks were classics gathered for the film, while others were composed by heavyweight Tim Simonec, who’s had his hands in several film scores. Justin Hurwitz contributed quite a bit as well, but he appears to be fairly new to the game…his only other credits are for writing some TV episodes including an episode for The Simpsons and several for The League. Hmm. Weird.

My Rating: Huzzah!!
Such a brilliantly acted and directed film. I think my brain hurts a bit from the whiplash-like motion of the story, but it was totally worth it.

Where Can I Watch It?: Rent it on Amazon or iTunes, or stop by a local rental store or library.

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