In all walks of life it is so very important to hold yourself up to your own standards of excellence and learning how to not be discouraged is a vital to key to attaining success but no matter how good the intentions we can all take it a little bit too far. “Whiplash” is an electric look at the single drive of what people are willing to put themselves through in order to achieve that seemingly unattainable level of perfection.
Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a young jazz drummer attending one of the more prestigious and cutthroat musical academies in the entire country. The competition is tough and not everyone succeeds or even finishes the program for that matter as it is a school and a profession that demands the unequivocal best from its students. Enter Terrence Fischer (J.K. Simmons) a respected jazz maestro who conducts with an iron fist pushing his musicians farther than they could have imagined. As the paths of both these men collide, neither could have expected how their lives would have changed in pursuit of doing what they both believe a lot of people have stop trying to do. Be better then what they are, no matter what the cost and how they get there.
Based on a short of the very same name, “Whiplash” is the kind of movie you can relate to, be horrified with and transfixed by all at the exact same time.
Writer/Director Damien Chazelle on his second feature length effort has unquestionably crafted a stunning movie that takes us into a world that bristles with tension as these young men and women try to live up to the nearly impossible standards set by those that came before them.
It’s a cliché to even say it, but this is the kind of movie that could only ever take place in New York City as the architecture and scenery outside along with the dimly lit practice rooms and hallways give us such an incredible sense of foreboding and dread. We want to root for this young man but Chazelle gives us every visual cue that he just probably won’t and as we see his life fall around him it is a brilliantly clear message that so many of miss whenever we go to any form of higher education. We have to succeed by our standards, not by anyone else in order to be successful, a message that comes through so well at the end of the film even though it embraces some of the horrible emotional traumas that he has endured it lets us boil down the simple fact that anything we may want for ourselves and I mean REALLY want for ourselves is going to take a hell of a lot of hard work and sacrifice. It’s a quality Chazelle finds in his leading man in spades.
As Andrew, Miles Teller takes the next step away from the teen-early 20’s rom-com genre mold and makes a statement for himself as a genuine actor something that he showed real flashes of in last year’s “The Spectacular Now”. He’s a young man driven by purpose to be memorable, the social and other standards of success that are set up by society really mean nothing to him as he just needs to master his chosen profession. Teller plays it great as a naive young man thrown into the deep end of life and shown how to swim and while things obvious go to some pretty serious extremes, he plays like a near sociopath not blinking, knowing that he will run himself into the ground to make it. It makes the final sequence of the film when he finally learns how to do it on his own terms such an emotionally cathartic release.
On the flip side of the power struggle is J.K. Simmons as the full blown sociopathic teacher and conductor Terrance Fischer. J.K. reprising the role he played in the short tears into the scenery as a merciless perfectionist who is carrying the torch to at least try and create the next musical great. He goes from zero to 60 in an emotional split second and we can’t help but watch in horror and glee as he chews threw the scenery at an epic clip, leaving emotional carcasses in his wake. You never like his character, but you still admire and appreciate him in hindsight because not all lessons are life easy and he teaches them as hard as he possibly can. Rarely do actor’s get to play such a glorious bastard and Simmons is having the time of his life doing it. The ensemble is rounded with Paul Reiser as Andrew’s father but this movie begins and ends with Teller and Simmons who put on a master class duel of character, tension and emotion.
Ultimately in our lives, we have teachers and family members that we want to please in order to attain some sort of personal success in our lives. However very few of us learn that there is truly only once measure of success, and that is internally for each individual. “Whiplash” does take that message to extremes, but it needed to as the last 20 minutes or so of the movie are such an emotional release that no matter your personal interpretation of what you see on screen you won’t be able to help but stand up and react in pure unedited emotion that is simply glorious as we see the culmination of that necessary life message.
5 out of 5 stars.
“Whiplash” opens in Toronto and Vancouver tomorrow and expands around the country in the weeks and months to come.