This week, Zach and Vig takes a look at the music-drama Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s second feature film. Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, and Melissa Benoist, Whiplash is rated R for strong language including some sexual references.
Young and talented drummer Andrew (Teller) is attending a prodigious music school and is taken under the wing of one of the most well-respected teachers at the school, Terence Fletcher (Simmons). Fletcher never relents in his abuse towards the students, torturing Andrew on his journey to become the greatest drummer of all time.
9.5 out of 10
I’d seen Miles Teller in two things before Whiplash: The Spectacular Now and That Awkward Moment. In both films, he appeared to play the same whiny and lazy character. Not only that, but he wasn’t really great in either of them. There’s no doubt that he has potential, but so far he hasn’t really shown it. However, Whiplash is an intense, meaningful and well crafted story of determination and hard-work, greatly due to Teller’s stellar performance.
Teller, as aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Nieman, is great. While his tendency to act like a kid is apparent at times, Teller’s intensity is what this movie needs in a lead. He holds his own against J.K. Simmons (who I’ll get to in a second) and never relents. Every decision Nieman makes, even if it is a tad extreme, is believable and interesting. Teller practiced drumming for hours for this role, and let me tell you, it’s pretty damn good. Overall, Teller does a really solid job.
However, I’m not head over heels about Teller simply because he had to go head to head with J.K. Simmons, who was absolutely incredible. Channeling his inner Sergeant Hartman (from Full Metal Jacket), Simmons, as Terence Fletcher, is relentlessly entertaining as a determined, unconventional, and excessively harsh music teacher. From beginning to end, he is the most entertaining character of this film. If you haven’t seen the “Rushing or Dragging” clip, it’s breath-taking. This transition from nice guy to absolute asshole is the greatest sequence in this film and is one of the greatest individual film scenes I’ve seen in a while. Simmons is what makes the movie great, and I think and hope he wins Best Supporting Actor.
While the acting is really good, the technical aspects are also spot on. The cinematography adapts to fit the pacing of the movie, specifically the fast paced rehearsals or performances. In the final scene, camera shots flow in and out of the drum set, highlighting each drum and cymbal while scrupulously displaying the sweat and blood that pour onto Andrew’s drumset. The shots were unique, capturing the art of drumming in stunning fashion. Meanwhile, the lighting is consistently dark but sets an appropriate gritty tone. It uses shadowing to its advantage, portraying Andrew as the star by lighting him while keeping Fletcher in the shadows, and sometimes vice versa. It isn’t groundbreaking, nor is it going to be winning a ton of awards, but it is still great work by Damien Chazelle.
Alas, this film was not perfect. There were certainly some parts that were undeveloped, to say the least. Actually, there was only one real issue, and that was with the character of Nicole, Andrew’s girlfriend. Melissa Benoist wasn’t bad at all, my gripe is more with the way she was written. Rather than being an actual character, Nicole was more of an object that was used to get different things out of Andrew’s character. At first, she was used to show a different side of him: rather than being a drummer 24/7 he actually had a life. But in her next scene, she was used to show how obsessed Andrew was with drumming, really the exact opposite of the first scene. And the worst is that I think there was a lot of potential to utilize her character so much more efficiently. Instead, her two scenes left a bad taste in my mouth because her second, and last scene, was really kind of random and ultimately pointless because there had been no build up. And towards the end, when he *spoiler* kind of tries to get her back, I felt no sympathy.
But in the end, there is no doubt that Whiplash is an excellent film. Music is a volatile yet beautiful thing, and this film shows both sides of it. You can love it more than anything in the world, but it can also drive you to the brink of insanity. This film’s success is derived from the passion and intensity of both lead actors, interwoven with the intimidating task of discovering the answer to one not-so-simple question: What does it take to be great? The answer, in the end, is Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons and the power of sheer human will.
9 out of 10
Whenever I have a pretty hard-line teacher, I’m torn up. On one hand, they are pushing me past my limits and slapping me with genuine truths about the competitiveness I’m going to face in the real world relentlessly. But on the other, they’re, well, in the most eloquent word choice of my career, dicks. At least, in the moment they are.
But whenever I’m leaving a really strict teacher’s class (Thankfully, I haven’t encountered too many) I almost always find myself wanting to impress them and defy their view of me. There’s a nagging thought that throbs in my head: what can I do to win this guy over? Whether its about passing those high standards they set or stickin’ it to ‘em, that aspiration to stand out is always there.
Whiplash is an ode to this- prepare yourself – whiplash in thought. Like the drums its main character thrashes, it’s a surprisingly fast-paced picture, filled with crashes and booms.
And there’s simply no getting around this: it’s damned brutal. This is coming from me here. The guy who loves Tarantino, has always had high tolerance for gore and did not even squinch once during Gone Girl. Whiplash tight-ropes the line between “amazingly real and impactful” and “mean and brutal” (You know, the one Darren Aronofsky plays jump-rope with) and it luckily most leans towards the latter. But there are charged, charged scenes in this thing with some (Somewhat questionable but afforded) brutal twists and abrupt turns.
Who navigates these sharp-curving courses? The actors of course! And this movie has got some terrific ones. Teller (Whom I’ve honestly never heard of before this, sorry) entrusted to play an ambitious character without being arrogant. This is yet another line the movie straddles with astounding ease: Teller’s character can, occasionally, come off as selfish but his actor plays this role so that we mainly see a student chasing his dream (Which has been distorted by a startlingly competitive atmosphere).
Simmons delivers one of those performances that I can say so much about yet so little at the same time: it nearly speaks for itself completely but its so polished, layered and well-done that I’m tempted to dedicate the entire review to it. I’ll give it a paragraph. Remember that “whiplashing” feeling I talked about with strict teachers? I had flashbacks. I sat in disbelief at how well he can evoke the conflicted feelings (and suspense!) a strict teacher often commands.
Meanwhile the directors and editors are there to make music exciting. When I heard of this and one of my friends raved to me that it was “incredibly exciting”, I kind of laughed it off in my head. Yet my friend wasn’t lying. I compared the pacing to the drum sets played in this film and the editing completely compliments it. Percussion is no background score for this film: it’s the heart of the band, one that hammers with an undying excitement as the plot increasingly closes in. The music is entrancing and intense-just like the class it’s played in.
If I had to assign one arching idea to Whiplash its the conflict between talent and education. How much talent can we squeeze out of ourselves and what is it in the first place for that matter? When did arts become so gruelling? I remember talking to my a group of colleagues about those grad schools that teach film, art and music and asking whether it was a true way to go about discovering your talents ($50k to have a professor discover them for you is a little steep) and one guy capped it off with this single, albeit arguable conclusion:
“If you find yourself trying really hard and impressing others, then it stops being art.”
Like Whiplash? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below!