Everyone I spoke to about the musical drama Whiplash had nothing but good things to say about the film. That is was brilliantly acted, deeply emotional, and all around captivating in its intensity were just a few of the glowing remarks I’d heard about this seemingly random film which gained momentum after its premier at Sundance and eventually won several academy awards including a nom for Best Picture.
Based on the high school experiences of director Damien Chazelle, the films protagonist Andrew Neiman played by Miles Teller aspires to be one of the best jazz drummers of all time. Idolizing the greats like Buddy Rich, Miles’ entire life revolves around his drum kit. After Terrence Fletcher, an infamous teacher and conductor overhears Andrew practicing, he invites him to join his prestigious jazz band made up of the best musicians at the school. Starting as alternate drummer, Andrew moves up and down the proverbial ladder jumping from core to alternate several times as he struggles to live up to the ridiculously high expectations of Fletcher who is constantly verbally and physically abusive. J.K. Simmons deserved the Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor without a doubt. His anger and rage is palpable and the response it evokes in the viewer is at times unsettling. The way he treats his students is unacceptable, but it’s done in the interest of pushing the few who have the potential to become legends to the limits. While you sympathize with Andrew has he struggles to be the best and to impress Fletcher, you can’t help but feel that the two were meant to work with each other. Andrew wants history to remember him alongside his idols like Rich, and Fletcher is the kind of person who will help him achieve that. After they have a falling out, Fletcher and Andrew meet at a jazz club where Fletcher explains his methodology by stating that the worst thing anyone can ever say to someone is “good job” implying that it only convinces the person to not push themselves further and the only way to become great is to never stop pushing yourself to be better.
While I agree the acting was top of the line and the drumming is other worldly, I wanted a little more from the film. Andrew’s love interest is barely even relevant and felt like a wasted storyline. The same goes for his father. We find out almost nothing about Andrew’s past and his absent mother and while his father fills the roll of emotional support system, their relationship with each other is barely touched on leaving you feeling like the possibility for added emotional weight was missed. The film clearly intended to focus solely on the relationship between Andrew and his teacher so the other “half storylines” feel unnecessary. In the end if you like jazz music, Whiplash was a good movie. If you like drumming, it was a superb movie.