This is a fun movie to watch.
Sure, it is based on a teacher at an elite musical school who is an absolute tyrant to his students, pushing them beyond their limits in hopes of achieving a jazz band that is absolutely seamless and perfect in every way. He abuses them, fires them, replaces them, makes them practice in military ways.
Whiplash is the story of Andrew, an ambitious drummer who has met his match with Fletcher, the most feared and respected musical teacher at the institution. Making it in his session band means that you have achieved something rare, and are able to play among some of the best musicians in the world.
But your spot is precarious. Fletcher pushes Andrew to extreme limits, always wanting him to be able to play faster, and to be exactly on “his time.” It can be grueling, but it is entertaining to watch, that is for sure.
The premise for the film is so incredibly simple, that it needs to be carried, and it is. By actor J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for his role as the demeaning and cruel teacher. And rightfully so. He is brutal, but still enjoyable to watch on the screen. His insults are harsh, yet somehow pretty funny at points, and he does everything he is able to do in order to push his band to be the greatest. He claims that the worst words someone can here is that something is good enough, because then there is little drive left for them to achieve greatness. The true greats need to be pushed harder and harder, to see how they are going to react to the criticism. Are they going to crumble? Or will they continue to rise to the challenge in order to prove that they are great?
Simmons excels in this role. He owns it, and is completely believable in it. He is foiled by Miles Teller, who plays Andrew. He is able to hold his own, and his desire for greatness seems to fit so well with Fletcher’s teaching methods, until he is unable to take the abuse any longer.
The final scene of Whiplash is also one to behold, certainly worth a couple of rewatches.
The focus is definitely on these central characters, as many of the secondary story lines are underdeveloped, and often just there to fill up the space, at times. Not a ton is really revealed about any character aside from Andrew as the film moves forward. The real meat of Whiplash is in the interplay between our two central characters.
The film explores interesting issues, such as how hard people should be pushed. If it really is okay to be just fine, or if that is creating a world where mediocrity is accepted, and seen as a limit to the potential of people. It is a valid point. Will new greats, in whichever discipline, emerge if they are not pushed to their absolute limits and beyond by someone?
Whiplash was a small budget film that did big things around the awards season, gathering a ton of nominations, including one for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, while winning 3 other Oscars, including the acting nod for the great Simmons. Really, Whiplash became the little movie that could, being made very quickly and on a shoestring budget, and then propelled to the forefront of American cinema, if only for a while.
It is a very watchable film, regardless of our opinions of the central themes. It is at times fun, at times brutal, but always filled with great jazz music throughout. For drummers, this is an absolute must-see, as some of the things that are done on the kit are exceptional and impressive to see.
After seeing Whiplash for the first time, I get what all the fuss is about. A very good movie.