I was expecting the movie to be a good competitor with Enemy, Interstellar and Nightcrawler for my #1 spot of this year’s list. Instead ‘Whiplash’ hit me right in the heart and went filling it with love, a lot of love. Now I’m pleased to say I’ve found my favourite movie this year, the ultimate #1.
Miles Teller, who’s been steadily growing on me since The Spectacular Now (my #3 last year), stars as Andrew, a 19-year-old aspiring jazz drummer who’s pushed and inspired by the abuse and aspirations of his school band leader Fletcher, played by the ferocious J.K. Simmons like we’ve never seen him before. Damien Chazelle has described the film as an origin story to the jazz musicians of the golden age, and it thrives on the myths of jazz heroes such as Charlie Parker. They’re urgently looking for the next Parker, in search of perfection, but with that comes a great irony. Although most of the audience for the film may not know much about music, you get a feel for what he’s looking for and when someone’s wrong even if you don’t know why. In my case, I use Jazz music for my writing. So I had no problem going into this.
For me it spoke to my heart, because I am Andrew. I’m the exact same person who shares such an incredible passion of an art form. Those scenes with the family when his character desperately tries to tell his path into music and drumming. I’ve got the same situations with my family and friends. It is so difficult to connect with people who don’t share the same love of any kind of art form (talking about filmmaking, producing music, singing etc.)
Damien Chazelle’s work, like every beginner director’s is full of raw power and energy. Every moment of Whiplash has so much dynamics and tension. You wouldn’t expect surprising twists from these kind of movies, but Whiplash has the quality to show you something unexpected in every minute. The director incorporates a few small, but clever twist in the narrative, and these aren’t twists for the twists’ sake. Chazelle is unlike any other young director: his work is unbelievably calculated, there’s not a single unnecessary frame in this picture, and he can always capture the essence of the moment or the actors’ performances.
The biggest praise Whiplash gets on top of its enthralling screenplay comes from the two main leads played by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. Of all the films that Miles Teller has stared in, this is hands down his greatest performance to date and boy this guy can drum. Teller’s performance as Andrew captures the raw passion and pain that his character goes through and it’s as powerful as acting performance can get. Simmons is as incredible as they say he is. Even though he’s an unlikeable character with nothing nice to say, he’s still somewhat endearing and enigmatic, much like R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. This de-masculinization through a barrage of insults is a theme explored in Whiplash and it argues whether it’s a crime or an ‘ends justifying the means’ factor of life.
To relate to modern society, many students these days are pushed to undesired-limits to become all-encompassing machines of productivity. You have to take all these classes, have all these skills, be in these clubs, have a social life and be financially stable. That equation right there seems a recipe for burnout and the development for some seriously disillusioned people. In essence, if you can’t do it all, we will find someone else who can and pay them a meager wage. Whiplash is a film that spits in the face of societal expectation and meritocracy and says “Fuck you, I’m going to be the greatest jazz drummer in the world and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!” Andrew knows what he wants, knows who inspires him, has an idea of what he lacks, and knows he has to give a great deal of himself to his goal if he is going to achieve it.
Many people tend to fall into careers they regret every day for the rest of their life. Some modern leaders find themselves unable to relate to, communicate with, and utilize their teams to reach new heights. I don’t intend to be that person, because these people don’t have a lot of what Andrew or myself has: an understanding of what they want, an idea of what they lack, an idea of who inspires them and what interests them, a drive to reach their goal- whether that goal be business-based, artistic-based, or humanity-based. It is truly no wonder why we can respect people who try to sucker us to buy something we don’t want; who lobby for big tobacco; who preach at our local church; who fix our cars, but might not be the best at it. When we know that they are invested in what they do and that their function serves a purpose for them in life, it doesn’t matter if they are involved in business, art, or humanity efforts, we embrace and relate to their struggles and respect them as a whole person in their pursuit.
Whiplash is a masterpiece and it has completely won my heart. Riveting and pulse-pounding from beginning to end, it will have you panting by the time the credits roll. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons give career defining performances, and I will always remember their roles from this film, because they took this film to a far bigger level. The more the drums are played, the more tense your body becomes, and the film does not let up until the very last frame.
Whiplash gets a perfect score 10/10!