Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
Rated R for Strong Language including Some Sexual References
There are two reasons to see “Whiplash,” and they are named Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. The movie itself is intense, but has an uncertain narrative flow with poorly developed secondary characters. But when Teller and Simmons lock horns, the movie is absolutely brilliant.
Andrew Neyman (Teller) is a young jazz drummer who is as talented as he is ambitious. One day he is spotted by Terence Fletcher (Simmons), who runs the school’s top band, and offers him a secondary spot. Soon he is the core (i.e. playing in concerts) drummer. But Fletcher has standards that are impossible to meet, and one mistake will get you on the wrong end of a vocal tirade that will leave the hardest man in tears. But Andrew won’t let Fletcher push him around, and the repeated clashes between the two are escalating into all out war.
Forget Al Pacino or Jack Nicholson. Compared to Simmons’s Fletcher, their “foaming at the mouth” characters are posers. Simmons is positively frightening in the role, and what makes him even more frightening is that there are teachers who are like this. I’ve had one or two myself. Certainly not to this extreme, but there are definitely “tough love” teachers out there, and Fletcher is one of them.
Miles Teller doesn’t get as showy of a part, but that’s the nature of the beast. Andrew is the hero we are supposed to identify with. But Teller’s work shouldn’t be discounted. He’s obsessed, but a strong individual. Fletcher may indeed have met his match.
Don’t think that because this is a movie about a teacher and his student that it is going to be something like “Dead Poets Society.” It’s not. Far from it. In fact, “Whiplash” is closer to a case study of a sado-masochistic relationship than a coming-of-age story. Fletcher is ruthless to the point of being a psychopath, but he has his reasons. And Andrew’s eagerness to prove himself is on the verge of an addiction.
At 107 minutes, the film is too short. More time spent developing Andrew’s mindset would have made the ending more believable. His relationship with his girlfriend is shortchanged to the point where it’s almost superfluous. As his father, Paul Reiser’s role is little more than a cameo. More time with both of them would have given this film a bigger punch.
Damian Chazelle also fails to establish a consistent narrative momentum. It kind of starts and stops in a herky-jerky way. More time smoothing out the screenplay and some creative editing were needed to make it truly great. That said, the climax is set up so well that the outcome is impossible to predict. You don't find that very often.
“Whiplash” is definitely flawed, but with Teller and Simmons as the leads, it’s going to floor you.