Sony Pictures Classics Company
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Damien Chazelle
Screenplay: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Jayson Blair
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 9/16/14
Opens: October 10, 2014
If you’re a jazz fan, “Whiplash” is the movie for you. If you’re not, you will be. With Oscar-worthy performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons—who might be competing with each other for awards nominations—Damien Chazelle’s exuberant look at the relationship between a sadistic master teacher and a driven student is likely to be the most compelling film about music that you’ll see this year. With original music by Justin Hurwitz and some brilliant cross-cutting by editor Tom Cross, this tale by a 29-year-old writer-director whose script for “Grand Piano” kept the audience on their seats’ edge will have you standing up in the midst of your fellow theater-goers and yelling “encore.” You really will–if you have one-half of the chutzpah of the Miles Teller character.
“Whiplash,” named for one of the jazz pieces, is sure to lead to audience discussions about the teacher’s drill sergeant methods. You’ll argue either that all teachers should drive their students beyond what they thought possible or that the guy should be tossed out of the conservatory on his big ears. “Whiplash” is a far cry from the pabulum of “Mr. Holland’s Opus” (a frustrated composer finds himself as a high school teacher) or “Goodbye Mr. Chips” (a shy English teacher falls for a flashy showgirl).
You probably remember J.K. Simmons principally as Juno’s father in Jason Reitman’s movie, a guy concerned about his daughter’s pregnancy, but you’ve never seen Simmons like this. He pulls out all the stops, and is likely to have been pushed by director Chazelle as he, Simmons, pushes one of the three drummers in his conservatory band. Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is at the tender age of nineteen when he falls under the spell of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). If Fletcher were a high-school teacher, he would be out the door or the window on his first day at work. He curses constantly, lets drop comments that are anti-gay and anti-Semitic, and in one fit of frustration throws a chair at a member of the band. Yet he is apparently never observed by the administration nor does anyone in the class complain.
Fletcher leads a competitive jazz ensemble at the conservatory and is determined to win all competitions. He believes the two worst words a teacher can tell a student are “Good job.” “Where could Charlie Parker be if during the time he was learning, he believed a teacher to be satisfied?” Well, possibly better off, as the inventor of be-bop was an avid consumer of heroin and alcohol and died at thirty-four with the body of a sixty-year-old.
One can imagine Fletcher’s band members as potential suicide candidates if they could not meet the teacher’s expectations. Fletcher had an incredible ear for jazz and could tell in a single measure whether a player was “dragging” or “rushing,” and could spot an out-of-tune instrument even in a loud performance of thirty band members. After a dramatic event involving Fletcher and Neyman—the latter involved in a rebellion that none of his fellow musicians could dream of—Neyman looked at his future without the drums, a disappointment to his father (Paul Reiser) and of course himself. An exhilarating, feel-good conclusion, however, evokes a dramatic turnaround that makes “Whiplash” arguably the year’s feel-good movie.
The movie played festivals at Cannes, Toronto, Sundance and New York, taking top prizes at Sundance and the Deauville (France)-American competitions. Neither Simmons nor Teller could have done this on his own. The battle royal between the two evokes from the pair a performance that will be remembered for the remainder of their careers.
Rated R. 105 minutes. © 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – A
Technical – A-
Overall – A-