So I was going to attempt another pun-filled review for the movie Whiplash, complete with a whole bunch of drumming terms like bongo and bass, but I quickly realized I am not the least bit clever in that regard nor do I feel comfortable joking in unfamiliar territory. I would just be dragging with every joke and I’d lose any sort of rhythm about midway through my review. I don’t know what it is with my humor lately. It’s almost like I’m rushing into comedic ruin…I can’t quite measure the change. I’ve been caught in some comedy snare ever since I went to see the movie Foxcatcher.
Hey I got one! How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb? None! They have a machine for that now! No? Not even a badum tish? See what I mean? I’m half beat trying to make these drum jokes work…
It’s nearly impossible to keep up with this tempo of seeing a movie and immediately writing about it. If only I had someone to push me to my true potential. If only I had someone to berate me until I just suck it up and start cranking out Roger Ebert-style golden reviews. If only I had someone like…
J.K. FUCKING SIMMONS
No you’re the man JK! Because of your profanity-riddled criticism I’m going to write the most insightful review yet and drum up some more followers. I’ll tackle all of those themes, all that cymbalism; people will want to see Whiplash and I won’t rest until they do!
Regrettably, I haven’t really taken the time to go through and review each 2015 Best Picture nominee to the extent they each deserve (except for – you know – American Sniper which doesn’t). With the latest screening of Whiplash, all that remains is to see Selma which I should knock out sometime later this week. Then I promise I’ll share each and every Oscar pick I have since you’re no doubt on the edge of your seat with anticipation.
Whiplash no doubt will be taking home several of those gold men, but I would almost be offended if J.K Simmons didn’t take home the Best Supporting Actor award. He’s ferocious, terrifying, and mildly offensive – the likes of which we haven’t seen since Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket. He occupies such a dominant presence on screen that you’d think no one could go toe-to-toe with him without fear of a bigottous comment typhooning your head off.
No one except for our resident anti-hero Mr. Miles Teller of course – AKA the next Mr. Fantastic.Teller plays the new kid on the block – Andrew – at a highly acclaimed music conservatory in New York City. He has the drive, he has the raw talent, but he doesn’t quite have that extra push he needs to quite achieve immortality in the drumming world – that is until he’s picked for the studio band by resident professor Terrence Fletcher (Simmons).
Fletcher is ruthless in his teaching style. In one breath he’s praising the dedication and hard-work of his musicians; in the next he’s hurling a chair and belittling them to the point of tears. If ever you had a coach or teacher you thought was a nightmare, prepare for them to rise to sainthood compared to Fletcher. Anyone ever have a piano teacher beat you over the head with criticism until you got your scales right? Nah, I didn’t either because I got those sons-of-bitches right on the first time.
That’s basically all there is to the film. Simmons and Teller develop a brutal mentor-student relationship that is fueled by both of their limitless ambitions. Teller wants to be the next drumming sensation and Simmons wants to be the one to inspire a musician to a legendary status. The film in itself is critical examination of the detriments of unrestrained ambition and could easily be the candidate to upstage the Oscar front-runners – Birdman and Boyhood.
This is the point when I’d start dumping filler into the review for things like cinematography and narrative structure, but I’ll be damned if those aren’t the two most curious aspects of the film. Don’t get me wrong they’re great, but it’s marvelously refreshing at how director Damien Chazelle keeps literally everything in this movie symbolic to the free expression of music. The scene cuts are often unpredictable, the story is unpredictable, and if you’re not a music aficionado then the music is going to be unpredictable. Spoiler alert: there are drum solos.
Now, most of you are probably in the same boat as me; you don’t have a whole lot of drumming or even musical experience under your belt. The only reason I can tell the difference between the snares and the tenors is because I dated a girl on the drum line for two years and even then I’m at a loss to Dhol out drum trivia…All that being said, I still found it incredibly interesting the way studio Jazz was portrayed as almost being mechanical and rigid throughout the film rather than a product of free expression.
You don’t necessarily have to understand bars or tempos or whatever the fuck ¾’s time means to appreciate that when Fletcher waves his hand to stop his musicians, he desires perfection. Again and again he challenges Andrew to play to his tempo until the boy’s hands are literally bloodied (I’m assuming this was more symbolic than actually realistic – a talented drummer at his stage shouldn’t get blisters every time he plays).
Say what you will about Fletcher; the character is as timeless as he is endearing. It’s dazzling to see a universally despised character show breadth and depth in the form of personal vulnerability, a warm friendliness at times, and even a glimmer of inspiration. Then he’s right back to machine-gunning your psyche and dredging up long buried memories of hostile mentors.
The entire film is saturated with claustrophobic tension, despite it coming across as a Rocky-style sports montage at times. You want Andrew to defeat his villainous mentor, but at the same time you despise him for lacking any humanity and generally being an asshole – a byproduct of his unbridled ambition no doubt. Who needs other characters like the ex-girlfriend or the father? They’re only there to serve as a reminder of the humanity Andrew has tossed aside. It’s absolutely brilliant! Neither character is the least bit relatable or likeable but you hang on every half-note and feel the sweat dripping from every pore of Andrew’s body when he’s locked in his immortal battle with Fletcher.
You know what this movie doesn’t have? Explosions, clichéd dialogue, super-heroes, unbelievable premises. No dammit, it doesn’t have any of that schlock, yet the audience is left transfixed on by a film that is about something the majority of them have no experience with. Amazing right? It’s a barrage of the senses that is equal parts dark and dazzling. We’re left to treat this movie as an allegory to the tempo of the drums and personally measure the value of Fletcher’s contorted theories on perfection. It’s an examination of sacrifice and self-improvement. It’s a treatise on obsession.
So I ask you Dear reader, are art and music inherently perfect if filtered through an ‘ends-justify-the-means’ teaching approach or is the beauty instinctive to the artist’s hands? Is there a price for greatness? How much should you sacrifice to accomplish your dreams? Yeah, thank god I don’t have to apply all that philosophical rigmarole to Hollywood anymore. I just have to say Whiplash is a ‘Tour de force’ and you’re just expected to know that it’s a great movie. Fuck that. You will never hear me use such pretentious gobbledygook as long as I’m writing this pro-bono.
This isn’t a fucking English class for Christ’s sake. Movies, like any form of artwork, can certainly be manufactured – there’s no denying that – but there is always some artistic value or lack thereof to be found. That’s what objectivity is for. If you don’t necessarily like a ‘good movie’ you can tell whoever it is arguing with you to fuck off, just so long as you appreciate that their value in film is inherently different.
Good movies are emotional, and a good director is one that leads you on an emotional journey. They tell you where to look, when to pay attention, what’s important. The why is left up to the audience. Good movies exist in the realm between the screen and what the audience takes away after their viewing. This means you always get a say and don’t you forget it!
The Bottom Line:
I would not be the least bit surprised or the least bit upset if Whiplash took home the Oscar for Best Picture. It more than deserves the distinction. It’s visually engaging, energetic and one hundred other buzz words I’ll let you fill in for yourself. It’s a music film for non-musicians and easily the most relatable film if you’ve ever had an overbearing coach or mentor.
If I still haven’t convinced you through either that brief snippet or the 1000 plus words above, see it solely for Miles Teller and J.K Simmons. The intensity of both actors’ performances is the most refreshing thing I’ve seen easily in my last 20 or so trips to the Alamo Drafthouse. It would be a travesty if Simmons did not take the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and I have no doubt that you’ll whole-heartedly agree with me once you’ve seen the film.
Incidentally don’t wear a drums shirt to the screening if you aren’t a drummer. I learned that mistake the hard way and have made a mental note to myself to never try and bullshit a musician.