Written by: Reuben Barbosa
Whiplash is a film that asks the questions: “How far is too far when it comes to pushing yourself to achieve artistic success?” It’s an important subject to look at since success in music, like many other art forms, is in the end based on how much you’re willing to do to get ahead of others. This question is explored in a film which is a musical thriller (a rarity in cinema) similar to Grand Piano, director Damien Chazelle’s previous film. However Grand Piano was a b-movie compared to Whiplash. I would never have expected a director of his previous calibre to make a film with such maturity in such an interesting way, though it’s not the weirdest turn I’ve seen for someone in film. (Nicholas Cage is in a good film once every blue moon.)
What makes Whiplash so unique is the way it focuses on the student-teacher relationship between young Andrew (Miles Teller) and his maniacal teacher Fletcher (JK Simmons). There is no inspiration, there is no happiness involved, it is just one student trying to prove himself good enough to a teacher who uses verbal and physical abuse to his advantage. Both actors give stunning performances. JK Simmons is finally able to shine in a major role after his brief success as the perfectly cast J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man trilogy. He gives a convincing performance of a teacher who will go to such levels of torment with his students that you almost want to congratulate him on how true he is. He’s a character to hate, but a character you enjoy watching and the film knows that and doesn’t a waste a minute of screen time with him.
What about the main character of Andrew himself? He is the one emotionally pushed, he is the student trying to prove himself of some worth in this world, and he is the person to emotionally connect to as he suffers. Yet I don’t want to spoil the story by going into much detail (which is pretty much impossible to do). His downfall begins when the movie opens. Miles Teller portrays a lonely young man who finds happiness in a world where everything is against him, everything being Fletcher. He is a relatable young artist trying to make it in New York and he does have a unique talent as a drummer which anybody in the audience could notice, though Fletcher believes as a teacher that no two words in the English language are more dangerous than “good job”. We never know what Fletcher thinks of Andrew because he never says it until the end and boy is it worth it.
The last twenty minutes of this film could easily be the greatest third act I’ve ever seen. It features a passionate build up that makes you understand both characters and their actions perfectly with no words being spoken. It’s not worth spoiling beyond that sentence,but trust me, it is one that makes you question whether either side really won in the end.
The music in the film is exclusively jazz, though being a fan of the genre is not required while viewing. The film is edited in a way where the camera cuts with the rhythm, moves with notes, and tracks the beat to such a great degree that it’s hard not to have fun when the musical pieces are played. What also helps make them so believable is the fact that Miles Teller learned to play drums and JK Simmons learned to play piano for their roles and both seem like experts at it. There are no awkward cuts or obvious doubles used in the film and apparently the pain you see their characters suffering was real for both actors, with Miles Teller getting the worst in a scene that might honestly make you sick.
My favourite scene would have to be the first encounter with Andrew and Fletcher. Andrew is forced to play the same four notes over and over again because he’s a millisecond off every time. He gets it wrong, and then he gets it wrong again, and then he gets it wrong again, and then he gets it wrong again, and then . . . But I wouldn’t dream of giving it away.