What it's about:
Andrew Neyman is an ambitious young jazz drummer, single-minded in his pursuit to rise to the top of his elite East Coast music conservatory. Plagued by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew hungers day and night to become one of the greats. Terence Fletcher, an instructor equally known for his teaching talents as for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the school. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, forever changing the young man’s life. Andrew’s passion to achieve perfection quickly spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability and his sanity.
What we thought:
Whiplash has the uncanny ability to transfer the obsession and ambition it exhibits on film to the audience watching it, coming off the screen like the buckets of sweat that comes off Miles Teller, the lead actor. But this film isn’t only for the musicians out there – it appeals to anyone who knows what it’s like to obsess over ambition, to want to reach your dreams in a spectacularly unflattering fashion as longs as you make it, so all-consuming that you disregard the social as well as the physical aspects of your humanity.
Andrew (Teller) is a quiet jazz drumming student at a famous music school with dreams of being “one of the greats.” He becomes part of the acclaimed school band led by Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a teacher so vile and manipulative that it puts his whole humanity in doubt. Think of every horrible teacher you’ve ever had, and then combine them all together and enhance their personalities by a million. Then you might come close to the monster that is Fletcher.
This might make it sound like a most depressing film, but somehow it isn’t. Few films have ever made me feel as amped for life as this one. I was so revved up after watching it that I had to go for a long run just so I can use up the adrenaline. If you ever need a pick-me-upper, watch Whiplash, and bathe in the ambition as it oozes from Andrew’s pores. Director/writer Damien Chazelle has planted his flag with this film and is an up-and-comer to look out for. With five Oscar nominations, including Best Motion Picture, Best Writing and Best Supporting Actor, I honestly believe that Whiplash should just win them all. It deserves them all.
I was very surprised by Teller. He was never my favourite actor and although I haven’t seen his breakout role in Rabbit Hole, I have always found his characters to be annoying douchebags and felt like that was all he could play. I was also very sceptical about his casting as Mr Fantastic in the reboot of The Fantastic Four franchise, and his ability to play the nice nerd. But after Whiplash, I am converted to the Teller Team. His performance made your heart pound, weep and celebrate as his character is moulded by sweat, blood and tears. And one doesn’t have to be an expert to know that playing drums onscreen is not as easy to fake as other instruments, like guitar. Teller had to be in perfect timing with every note, rhythm and cymbal crash, otherwise the audience will know. I think the character’s stress was Teller’s actual stress, amplified by the terror induced by Simmons’ acting.
But it’s easy to be petrified by Simmons playing Fletcher. The man is as underrated as they come, with a resume that is almost unending, but his role in Whiplash has propelled him into the spotlight he deserves. With already a few wins under his belt for Whiplash, including a Golden Globe, I am almost certain he will win the Oscar, because nothing is as terrifying as Fletcher. When Chazelle told him to push it beyond the limits, Simmons pushed it into bloody outer space. He strings insults together in perfect harmony like the music he commands, goes from smiling to berserk in split seconds and is the abusive teacher you are glad you never had. Playing this kind of psychotic menace means to tap into a very cynical dark part of oneself, and Simmons has the skill and experience to do it without losing himself completely (although I’m sure it was pretty close.)
The musical score of course is flawless and by using real musicians for the other characters, including Andrew’s rival Carl (Nate Lang) who was also Teller’s drum teacher, it adds authenticity to the film. The cinematography is also a great piece of art, an exceptional feat especially when it came to filming the drumming sequences. The film was summed up for me in one single shot, in one of the few moments of the film where everything gets slowed down. A close up of one of the cymbals, vibrating in slow motion as a single splatter of blood and lots of sweat drip off it, almost glowing in the lights of the stage. And that is what Whiplash is all about.