Movie Review: Whiplash


March to the beat of your own drum. Image via Entertainment Weekly

Let’s start this review with a new spin on a classic joke:

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Get a cymbal thrown at your head first.

Just in case you were getting sick of watching people in movies succeed without actually putting much work in, Whiplash offers a solution. That solution, of course, is to watch somebody drum until their hands bleed and blister.

Whiplash has been buzzed about ever since it debuted at Sundance this past winter. It both lives up to and exceeds the hype. It is a film that manages to be both insult comedy and horror at the same time. While the horror part might seem like a stretch, I do feel afraid to listen to jazz now.

Every trailer and commercial you might have seen for Whiplash are misleading in a way that serves it well. Remember how you were when you first got into college? You were incredibly naïve in an endearing sort of way. Sure, there are people who knew everything at that point; those people are called liars. Anyway, Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) enters the best music school in the country with high hopes of being the best drummer alive. Even if you find Miles Teller annoying (there are people who do), it is hard to deny the power of his performance here. His stammering awkwardness hides a frightening ambition that is thrilling to watch.

Neyman is about to get the literal slap in the face he didn’t know he deserved. One day, he is “discovered” by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) and brought into Fletcher’s band. Fletcher is the teacher everybody wants, because he is tough in a way that I have never seen any mentor be in a movie before. He is unpredictable, and perhaps the scariest part about him is that he will never say “good job,” because to him, there is no such thing as a job well done.

I could probably write an entire review about J.K. Simmons’ performance, because that is how good he is in Whiplash. It is sad that people are just now realizing how lucky we are to have him around as an actor, but I guess playing against type is the best way to gain recognition. Normally, Simmons comes off as the kind, mild-mannered Midwestern dad. Here, he plays Mr. Miyagi by way of R. Lee Ermy. In fact, just imagine if the entire first half of Full Metal Jacket was stretched out into a film. That is what Whiplash is. Simmons portrays Fletcher more like a general making sure his troops don’t get shot than a conductor who is about to lead a symphony.

Whiplash takes the typical story of an underdog overcoming the odds and flips it on its head. Remember the training montage in Rocky? Of course you do; it’s when he eats raw eggs and then runs up the Philadelphia Museum of Art stairs. After that, Rocky is suddenly ready to take on Apollo Creed. A similar montage takes place in Whiplash less than halfway through, and is followed by Miles Teller getting yelled at even more. Plus, Andrew gets his Adrian (they even get a nice little meet cute at a movie theater), and then tells her to go away so he can play the drums more. In the world of Whiplash, the training never ends. In most films like this, the effort matters more than the actual outcome of the competition. Whiplash will make you rethink what it means to “push yourself.” It’s not just about doing more than is expected of you; it is about doing more than is humanly possible.

Whiplash also happens to be one of those films that makes you view something you didn’t think you cared much about in a whole new light. First time director Damien Chazelle clearly knows the world of jazz better than anybody and he is not afraid to show the darker side of it. That is right, you will see lots of bloody hands and lots of spit being emptied from a section of Trombones.

Chazelle’s directing puts you right into the center of this world and refuses to take you out until he feels like he is ready to. In a way, Whiplash takes the audience along for a long con. Just as Fletcher pushes Andrew way past all possible limits, Whiplash does the same to the viewer. Just when you think Andrew is finished, just wait, there is even more. Whiplash can be an excruciating ride, and I say that in the best way possible. Few films actually try to push the viewer. Most try to make moviegoing easier and more accessible. Watch Whiplash and prepare to be challenged, and ultimately rewarded. Mankind needs more movies like Whiplash.

Brain Farts From The Edge

  • Doctor Fletcher is a doctor. Sure. That reminds of one of my favorite 30 Rock jokes.
  • I think I should just open every review from now on with a Catskills style joke.
  • Probably the scariest part of Whiplash is that giant vein that bulges out of J.K. Simmons’ head every time he gets angry.
  • Inside Llewyn Davis would have been a much different film if Llewyn had Fletcher as a mentor.
  • Whiplash deserves a lot of points for its screenplay, which never tries to give its characters any “save the cat” moments. It is hard to find a movie justify a character’s selfishness like Whiplash does.
  • Damien Chazelle. With a name like that, you’re basically destined to hang out exclusively in jazz clubs.