Sunday, November 16, 2014
Movie review: Whiplash
Yesterday, I took advantage of the bright, crisp weather (a rarity in November, Portland's rainiest month) to walk the ~four miles from condo to Fox Tower Cinema, there to view a matinee showing of Damien Chazelle's Whiplash. The film received much praise from critics and the preview intrigued.
The film stars Miles Teller as Andrew Neyman, a first year student at the prestigious Shaffer Music Conservatory in New York. Andrew comes from humble beginnings, being the son of a failed writer, Jim (Paul Reiser), and is determined to achieve greatness. Specifically, he hopes to become a great jazz drummer in the mold of Buddy Rich. His playing catches the eye of a virtuoso jazz instructor, Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons), who brings him into Shaffer's elite jazz ensemble. Fletcher is a demanding instructor. His tools include emotional manipulation, intimidation, physical and verbal abuse, and sabotage. Andrew, suffering under the demands placed on him by Fletcher, finds some comfort in the company of Nicole (Melissa Benoist), whom he sees working the concession counter at a movie theater. As the story progresses, Andrew discovers the price demanded by greatness, and must decide if he is willing to pay it.
This is a very good flick.
The writing is good. There are some great exchanges, in particular the dinner scene in which Andrew explains his aspirations to his bewildered family. But the writing is secondary. What really makes this film work is the acting.
The two headliners, Teller and Simmons, are especially good. I've liked JK Simmons since his days on Law & Order, and his role as Fletcher seems like a breakthrough performance. Miles Teller used to play drums for a church youth group and that real life experience seems requisite for his role in this movie.
The music, by the way, is infectious. I was tapping my foot throughout the 107 minute run time. On the bus ride home, I added Buddy Rich and Charlie Parker to my Pandora play list.
I came away from the flick with a new appreciation of jazz, certainly. But more than that, Whiplash (and Birdman, which I saw a while back) provided fresh insight into the toll that creation exacts on the artist.
Everything comes at a price. And you get what you pay for.