Starring-Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
Scott’s Review #192
Reviewed November 13, 2014
Whiplash is a film about an aspiring nineteen year old Jazz drummer- Andrew Neyman, played by rising star Miles Teller (known for 2013’s indie teen drama The Spectacular Now), who is attending one of the most revered musical schools in the country, the Schaffer Conservatory in New York. There, he is both mentored and terrorized by his intense and sometimes sadistic conductor- Terence Fletcher, portrayed by J.K. Simmons. Andrew aspires to be the best drummer that he can be and worships Buddy Rich- a famous Jazz drummer from the 1930’s and 1940’s, who he constantly listens to and emulates. While Andrew aspires to make the school orchestra that desperately needs a new drummer, he meets a cute girl, Nicole, at the concession stand of his favorite movie theater, and they bond. Also in the mix is Andrew’s father, played by Paul Reiser. Once an aspiring writer, who never made it big, he struggles as a high school teacher. Andrew’s mother left the family when Andrew was just a toddler leaving just father and son.
The film mainly centers on the tumultuous relationship between Andrew and Terence and Andrew’s determination to be the best drummer in the world. J.K. Simmons is simply mesmerizing in his role of Terence and this is wonderful to see as Simmons has struggled as a character actor for years. He gives a powerhouse performance and plows full steam ahead in his viciousness and extreme brutality towards the student’s, and on more than one occasion reduces a student to tears- if the tempo is not to his liking he shakes his clenched fist in disapproval. The audience wonders if Terence is simply mean and sadistic or is tough on the students simply to make them work harder and achieve all that they are capable of. Throughout most of the film I wondered if I should hate this character or have sympathy towards him for wanting the students to excel. The sexuality of Fletcher is ambiguous. He belittles and ridicules the students with fat jokes- he hatefully taunts an overweight student about Mars bars and happy meals, uses Irish digs, and inevitably gay slurs on other students, but is he hiding something in his personal life? Is he a closet case? His private life remains a mystery. As brutal as Terence can be, there are moments of sensitivity that the character exhibits- he tearfully tells the orchestra a heartbreaking story of a former student, whom he admired, who recently died in a car accident. In another scene he warmly bonds with a friend’s young daughter.
As brilliant as Simmons is we must not forget to recognize the immense talent of Teller. The young actor does a fantastic job of portraying determination, drive, anger, and vengeance. Andrew has a wonderful relationship with his dedicated father, a love/hate relationship with Terence, (are they bitter enemies or do they have the respect of a mentor/student?) and a sweet yet uneven relationship with Nicole. He successfully portrays a myriad of different emotions over the course of the film. Paul Reiser is wonderful in an overlooked and, quite frankly, thankless role as Andrew’s unsuccessful, yet forever faithful father. Thankfully the film chose to center on the conductor/student dynamic and Andrew’s romantic relationship with Nicole did not take center stage and usurp the main point of the story, as I felt that the dynamic between the two was of lesser importance to the greater whole of the film.
The finale, an intense concert performance scene focusing on the intensity between Terence and Andrew, is superbly done. The close-up camera shots of the two added much to the climax of the film. In fact, throughout Whiplash, extreme close-up shots of sweat and blood and intensity during performances and practices add to the overall rawness of the film. Whiplash is an intense, sometimes brutal, assaulting experience, but what an amazing film it is.