Whiplash – Movie Review by Frances Winston
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Jayson Blair, Kavita Patil
In cinemas January 16th
In the 1980 Alan Parker movie Fame there is a famous line uttered by Debbie Allen to the students where she says: “You want fame, well fame costs. And this is where you start paying. In sweat.” This is clearly a belief shared by J.K. Simmons conductor Terence Fletcher here although you could literally add blood and tears to the statement!
Fletcher works for the Shaffer Conservatory, whish is the best music school in the U.S. New student Andrew Neiman (Teller) aspires to be one of the world’s greatest Jazz drummers and after getting accepted into the school he manages to successfully audition for the role of drum alternate in Fletcher’s award winning band. However, Fletcher is a hard taskmaster and bully who abuses and harasses students who don’t meet his standards of perfection. Despite this Andrew is desperate to impress him and practices obsessively even breaking up with his girlfriend Nicole (Benoist). It pays off when he is promoted to main drummer after losing another drummers sheet music. However, he quickly finds himself demoted again. When Fletcher then begins teaching a new song for a forthcoming concert he plays three drummers off against each other forcing them to audition for hours before settling for Andrew. Unfortunately on the way to the concert Andrew finds himself derailed and is involved in a serious accident breaking his hand. He still shows up but keeps dropping the sticks which leads to a confrontation with Fletcher and he is ultimately expelled. But that is far from the end of his experiences with Fletcher.
A phrase that I have heard bandied about a lot by critics is that “this is the most J.K. Simmons that J.K. Simmons has ever been” and that pretty much sums up his performance. In Fletcher he has created a truly reprehensible character that you still can’t help but care about. His anger and ire is fuelled by his passion for the work and that is somehow compelling. He finds a great foil in Teller as the naïve Andrew who is willing to take anything that is thrown at him (literally) in order to be the best. Both give great central performances and Simmons Oscar nomination will come as no surprise after you’ve seen this.
Chazelle really builds the tension and atmosphere in the dark and claustrophobic rehearsal rooms and there is almost a stranglehold to this movie. At times you are horrified by what you are seeing but you can’t stop watching. It’s not necessary to be a fan of Jazz to enjoy this although you will get more from the musical sequences which are beautifully shot and edited. This is the kind of film that leaves you wondering if you actually witnessed what you’ve just seen. It will leave you questioning all you know about fame and success. With reality stars milking their 15 minutes and making it look easy this shows the lengths that some people will go to and the sacrifices they will make in order to succeed at their art even if that success is bittersweet when it comes. A gruelling but worthwhile watch.