Saturday, February 07, 2015

Movies: Whiplash

They say it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make a great musician, and all three are featured literally in Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash":


"Whiplash" is sort of a jazz drummer's version of "The Paper Chase," albeit with a different ending and a different message. The movie follows a young music student named Andrew (Miles Teller) at the elite Shaffer Conservatory. The most intimidating teacher at the school is Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), conductor of the school's studio band. After a chance encounter lands Andrew in the band, a battle of wills erupts between the two, with Andrew's determination and dreams pitted against Fletcher's increasingly harsh tutelage.

This is a very good movie that you don't have to be a jazz aficionado to enjoy (it helps, though - if you like this, you'll like "Whiplash"). Veteran character actor J.K. Simmons is in full J. Jonah Jameson mode, barking and chewing up every scene he's in with foul-mouthed aplomb. His foil, Miles Teller, is blessed with an expressive face and enough musical talent to mime-drum well enough not to be distracting.

The main fault of "Whiplash" is that it's as single-minded as its characters. Setting aside its weird Ayn Rand-ian philosophy of musical talent (which a lot of people have taken issue with), this is a movie where eating popcorn with your dad and playing footsie with your girlfriend are, at best, distractions. I know that's intentional, but it still leads to precious little air for any other characters or stories to play out - a hefty sacrifice to make for a focused film.

Rating: 8/10

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