“Do you think you’re out of tune? What are you… there’s no fucking Mars Bar down there, what are you looking at? Look up here, look at me. Do you think you were out of tune?” asks Terence Fletcher. Metz responds, “Yes.” Fletcher responds, “Then why the fuck didn’t you say so?!”
Every year there’s always a few films where you watch the trailer for it and think, “That looks like a good movie.” When the film comes out and the critical reaction to it supports your initial reaction to the trailer, you think to yourself, “I really must see this film.” And then you go see the film, and it blows you away by how phenomenal it is. I had such an experience with Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. I liked the trailer, saw that the film received critical acclaim when it came out, and was looking for the right opportunity to see it. More than three months after it opened, I finally had a chance to see Whiplash (the recipient of five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture) on the big screen. It turned out to be so much better than I had anticipated, and it was quite an emotional journey to be a part of.
2014’s Whiplash centers on a first-year jazz student who’s determined to join a jazz band led by an instructor who will go to any length to push his students to perfection. Chazelle gathered an impressive cast for his film: Miles Teller (as Andrew Neimann), J.K. Simmons (as Terence Fletcher), Paul Reiser (as Jim Neimann), Melissa Benoist (as Nicole), Austin Stowell (as Ryan Connolly), and Chris Mulkey (as Uncle Frank). Chazelle’s direction is top-notch, as is Sharone Meir’s cinematography and Justin Hurwitz’s jazz-based score (I just loved that main theme). Tom Cross’ Oscar-nominated editing is well-paced; I loved how he was able to make the band performances even more exciting through his editing. Chazelle’s Oscar-nominated screenplay is an exciting duel between two extremely determined individuals (I was confused as to why it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay rather than Original Screenplay until I learned that the feature-length script was first turned into an acclaimed short film that was used to help secure financing for the feature-length version). It’s high on drama, but has a surprising amount of humor that doesn’t detract from the story.
Teller gives an incredible performance as the very determined Andrew, who seeks to become one of the jazz greats, endlessly practicing on the drums past the point where his hands start to bleed (at one point in the film, a bloodied Andrew rushes away from a car accident that he was involved in just so that he could be on stage on time for his band’s performance). Andrew also fears of becoming a failure like his father (a writer who ended up becoming a teacher). Simmons gives a very commanding, scene-stealing performance as the ruthlessly determined Fletcher, who demands perfection from his students at any cost. He desires to have his own Charlie Parker, and relentlessly pushes Andrew, sensing that Andrew could possibly be his Charlie Parker. At the end of the day, they’re both extremely passionate about music (particularly jazz), and it’s difficult to fault them for it (especially Simmons’ Fletcher, whose verbal abuse is just so damned hilarious half of the time). Whiplash is gripping, entertaining, and also one of the best films of 2014. You’d be a fool to miss out on it, so if you haven’t already seen it, you better make some time to go see it.