Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
You know that feeling you get when you're watching something and the longer you watch the more you realize this is something very special. That is the experience of watching Whiplash, the Sundance Film Festival winning film by director Damien Chazelle. The movie is intense and mesmerizing, literally thrusting you into a world of crazed energy and extreme inhibitions. Carried by awards-worthy performances, Whiplash is, without a doubt, one of the year's best movies.
Andrew (Miles Teller) isn't your average college freshman. While most are lost climbing the social ladder, Andrew has his sight set on becoming one of the greats. A talented drummer already, Andrew dives headfirst into disciplining himself into further greatness after a run-in with the music department's resident tough-as-nails professor, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). The school, a sort-of Julliard level college, hosts an array of talented young people. But, it's Fletcher's studio band that offers the most promising of future careers. When Andrew is drafted into a second-string position as the drummer, the true identity of just how abrasive Fletcher can be is revealed. He writes it off as tough love and pushing students to reach beyond what they believe is their best. From an outsider's perspective, it's a mix of unrelenting pushing and crossing the line. Despite tears, blood, and sweat, Andrew proves himself beyond all measure until a laughably genius moment brings the two to a level never expected.
The atmosphere Chazelle has created throughout Whiplash is equal parts modern day drama and classic film drama. Like the music, which is a throwback to great jazz standards and big drum solos, the film feels like any number of great classic character studies set in the modern world. The key to this greatness is, in fact, the performances by Teller and Simmons. As the young drummer, Teller is impressive on multiple fronts. His musicianship is nothing short of incredible and his knack for believable portrayals sets him apart than other young actors. He's proven himself time and time again. Simmons, as the asshole professor, is nothing short of brilliant. He's crafted himself as a sarcastic everyman in countless roles, whether they are determined detectives or loving fathers. Here, though, there's a different type of devotion given. Simmons is the king of delivering great lines. The moment when he taunts Andrew and makes him cry is all things embarrassing and awesome. "Don't tell me you're one of those single tear people." It's amazing what great actors can do when given a good script and led by a great story.
The music is craftily mingled throughout the story, becoming almost a third leading character. We begin to recognize missteps, which only adds to the excitement when a piece is finally brought to fruition. We also agonize with Andrew when trying to get it right becomes a literally painful experience. I was holding my breath the same way I was during the almost-lynching scene in 12 Years a Slave. I was afraid of the pain and I was afraid of Fletcher.
I can't say enough how much I enjoyed this movie. It was everything I look for in a great film. Very rarely do I get excited to see movies over and over again, but this is one I can't wait to watch for a second time. The idea of a movie about a jazz drummer may sound mundane, but Whiplash is not a movie about a jazz drummer. It's about ambition and not letting anything get in your way.
Runtime: 107 minutes