Winning both the Grand Jury and the Dramatic Audience Awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Whiplash” whips onto screen with verve and brutality. How true is this representation of today’s elite music schools, including student – teachers’ obsessions for perfection? For writer/director Damien Chazelle, the emotional notes ring very true.
Chazelle, an acclaimed student drummer in a high school jazz orchestra, first directed a Sundance award-winning short based on his feature script of “Whiplash” (also on the 2012 Black List). Chazelle did not find joy in making music; instead he found fear. He explains his emotional fear in his film’s press notes as “Fear of missing a beat. Fear of losing tempo. Most overwhelmingly, fear of my conductor. With ‘Whiplash,’ I wanted to make a movie about music that felt like a war movie …. Where instruments replaced weapons … where the action unfolded not on a battlefield, but in a school rehearsal room, or on a concert stage.”
Chazelle succeeded; “Whiplash” is a very intense emotional journey.
With outstanding performances by Miles Teller (“The Spectacular Now”) as drummer Andrew, and the always-excellent (and finally getting his due) J.K. Simmons (“Juno,” “The Closer”) as music instructor Fletcher, “Whiplash” flips feel-good, music teacher movies on their heads. In fact, Fletcher might just rank as one of the greatest obsessively brilliant, yet horrible; driven, yet mean villains of all time. Or perhaps that’s the wrong way of looking at him – perhaps he’s just a perfectionist, getting the best out of his students by any means possible (i.e. pitiless intimidation).
Andrew is the son of a wannabe author, who settled for teaching high school (memorably played by Paul Reiser). Andrew’s not about to let his dream fall short like his father. His goal is to be a really great drummer at the top music conservancy, Schaefer. He lives and breathes to be the next Buddy Rich.
Obsessions are interesting things, especially when two obsessives are going after the same goal. There’s bound to be fireworks. There is also bound to be collateral damage (family, girlfriend). Damage is wreaked in “Whiplash.”
Chazelle does a masterful job in portraying the passion of artists and their muses. His goal of treating his music film like a war-sport is spot-on. Drumming is high-intensity training in which you bleed, literally. Leads Teller and Simmons were born to play these roles. In the future it may be hard to think of them as anyone but Andrew and Fletcher.
I’d say “good job” to Chazelle, Teller and Simmons, but I worry a drum cymbal might be thrown at my head! Let’s say instead, that “Whiplash” is maniacal brilliance.
Special filmmaker event: Actor J.K. Simmons will be in person for Q&A’s at the ArcLight Cinema Hollywood on Friday, October 10 at the 7:45 p.m. show, and on Saturday, October 11 at the Landmark Theatre after the 7:30 p.m. show and before the 10:15 p.m. show.
“Whiplash” is 106 minutes, Rated R and opens in Los Angeles October 10 at the Landmark Theatre and ArcLight Cinema Hollywood.