The title alone made me nervous, it sounded like a violent car crash or a slasher movie, but based on word of mouth and a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, I decided to brave the theatre. Whiplash is, in fact, intense. Who knew watching a driven young drummer fight for a top spot at a music conservatory could be so dramatic, at times frightening, and completely engaging? The movie, which had audiences at Sundance on their feet last winter, is a like a perfect storm of talent, with everyone doing their best work in the same film.
Largely it’s thanks to the amazing performances of J.K. Simmons (Spiderman, The Closer, Juno) as the brutal and wreckless instructor at a Juliard-like conservatory and Miles Teller (Divergent, The Spectacular Now) as Andrew, the prodigy in which he has a taken an interest. Both performances are electric and agonizing. So much intensity meant that I relished seeing Paul Reiser in the cast as Andrew’s father. Reiser brings a gentle depth to the supporting role, and a contrasting energy that is comforting.
As a parent, the dilemma represented in Paul Reiser’s character is what captured my imagination. To naturally love and support your beloved child, but to also deal with a level of ambition and drive that can break a child’s spirit. And, in the case of this film’s drummer, literally break his skin (he draws blood when his drumming gets intense.)
The film is rated R, and Common Sense recommends the film for age 15 and older. The scenes between teacher and pupil are emotionally brutal, but the lesson about getting lost in pursuit of a goal is powerful and one that teens will relish. This is not a light “date night” movie, but is one of the season’s best for a great post-movie conversation. Whiplash challenges one to think about the pursuit of excellence, and the cost of that ambition.
Whiplash is only the second theatrical release for filmmaker Damien Chazelle, who was himself (not surprisingly!) a drummer. And not so long ago – he was born in 1985 and has directed one of the best movies of the year. The film feels most like a thriller or a sports film, with an emotional intensity and pace-driven narrative that is not typical of a film about the student/ teacher relationship, or (for that matter) jazz. The pleasure of watching a talented drummer at his craft makes the experience all the richer, and then — there is all the incredible jazz.
Rated R // Run time 107 mins
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle (screenplay)
Reported by Cary Bickley