Nominations for the 2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards were released on Nov. 25, 2014, and it is no surprise that “Whiplash” received multiple nominations, including Best Feature, Best Supporting Male, and Best Editing. A film rich with style and tension, “Whiplash” coolly feels classic with its jazzy score yet very modern with its extreme close-ups and topical relevance about the aim for greatness in a passive teaching world.
Andrew (Miles Teller) is pretty average; a somewhat shy and observant music student studying jazz drumming, his dream is to become one of the most memorable drummers of all time. When he isn’t attending regular movies with his father (Paul Reiser) and attempting to woo the concession girl (Melissa Benoist), Andrew obsessively dedicates his time to drumming. In his quest for greatness, Andrew is desperate to receive tutelage from the great Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), one of the most respected men in the field. Surprisingly selected as an alternate, Andrew gives everything to his dream while Fletcher harasses and abuses him and the other students, his perverse way of motivating them to perfection.
Writer/director Damien Chazelle appears to have a minor obsession with jazz-themed movies (his first, “Guy and Madeleine on a Park Bench,” about a jazz trumpeter and “La La Land,” expected in 2015, about a jazz pianist), so jazz as perfection is appropriate for “Whiplash.” However, one does not have to be knowledgeable about this type of music to understand the argument the film poses; how far can you go for greatness and how far is too far? It is a study of success and drives, what pushes someone to succeed and whether the struggle is worth it. Andrew is pushed to his breaking point as he literally bleeds for his art; he sacrifices everything but doesn’t give up no matter the challenge. Fletcher’s techniques are obviously unhealthy, yet the method to his madness legitimately motivates Andrew. In a world of praising mediocrity, Fletcher achieves results with his abusive tirades, so does he go too far?
Films about music must focus on the details; the rhythm and editing are significant. Pacing the images with the music, Chazelle and cinematographer Sharone Meir utilize intriguing camerawork of extreme close-ups and bold color to keep the imagery as vibrant as the music.
Chazelle aimed high with “Whiplash,” and he truly negotiated greatness from his stars. Miles Teller is one of the brightest of the rising stars of today (see him in the tremendous “The Spectacular Now”), but J.K. Simmons gives a truly out-of-his-box performance. Simmons is easy to hate as Fletcher, rather startling for the always personable guy. As he explodes and constantly tests Andrew, he dares the audience not to see results in his ways.
Not a film for entertainment, “Whiplash” provokes thought and discussion following its daring storytelling. A passionate film, one hopes to see more from Chazelle.
Rating for “Whiplash:” A-
For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.
“Whiplash” is only playing at AMC Lennox and Drexel in Columbus. For showtimes, click here.