The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Whiplash (R)

Whiplash (R)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Whiplash (R)

A talented, arrogant band leader mentors a talented, arrogant young jazz drummer in Whiplash, a smart movie about music and trying.
Andrew (Miles Teller) is a shy kid who doesn’t have many friends at the music school where he goes to college. His only social engagement appears to be regular trips to movies with his dad (Paul Reiser), where he makes eyes but not much in the way of conversation with Nicole (Melissa Benoist), the girl behind the concessions counter. His only real interest appears to be drumming; he is driven to be one of the greats, listening to Buddy Rich over and over when he isn’t practicing drums himself. It’s during one such practice that Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) stops by to listen to him. Fletcher is the conductor of the school’s best jazz band, a seat in which is a highly coveted achievement by all the school’s students. Fletcher at first seems unimpressed with Andrew but later picks him to be an alternate drummer in his band.
Andrew is delighted — so much so that he has the confidence to finally talk to and ask out Nicole — but perhaps his first moments in the classroom, where the other student band members snap to attention when Fletcher arrives, should clue him in that this will be no relaxing jam session. Fletcher is a perfectionist who, we quickly discover, attempts to achieve perfection through a steady stream of abuse and humiliation. By the end of his first day, Andrew is reduced to tears by Fletcher’s critique of his inability to keep proper time. But the public berating lights a fire under Andrew, who practices until his fingers bleed. When the opportunity to show his improved abilities comes, Andrew takes the sticks and does a commendable job. 
He is, briefly, ecstatic and then arrogant about his elevated position in the band. Fletcher, of course, does not let that stand. He brings on yet another alternate drummer, eventually pitting the three drummers against each other in a grueling audition for an upcoming show.
First figuratively and then literally, Whiplash narrows its vision to Andrew versus Fletcher — although it isn’t always “versus” exactly. Neither is a particularly likeable person — each has an unshakeable belief in his own greatness that, while perhaps not incorrect, does not create a personality that is good at friendship or general human empathy. As much as Andrew is tormented by Fletcher, Andrew also wants to please him. Whiplash makes a pretty good argument that “genius” or “greatness” is a small percentage natural talent and affinity but mostly practice — grueling, all-encompassing, literally blood-soaked practice. Andrew, who is fairly certain of his greatness, is also accepting of this kind of extreme dedication. He admires Fletcher for requiring this level of commitment even as he becomes, at one point, violently frustrated by Fletcher’s unwillingness to acknowledge the work he puts in.
The clash between these two men is riveting to watch. Simmons is equally adept at playing nice guys (the mild psychiatrist on Law & Order, the understanding dad in Juno), loud guys (Jameson in the early aughts Spider-Man movies, a police muckety muck on The Closer) and villains (most famously, of course, white supremacist Schillinger from Oz). Here, he convincingly mixes all those personalities, frequently making you wonder which is the con and which is the real Fletcher. Teller, who is always able to give an extra something to even supporting characters, is also fascinating to watch. He gives Andrew a nice balance of emotions and lets us feel sorry for him and want to cheer him on even as we can also see him being arrogantly naive and a little snot who deserves the occasional humbling. 
The movie ends with an extended final scene that is completely riveting, edge-of-your-seat stuff — possibly the most perfect end note I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. By itself, the scene captures what is great about the central performances and what is great about the movie overall — a blend of dark humor, gritty obsession with perfection and the drive of two flawed but fascinating people. A
Rated R for strong language including some sexual references. Directed by Damien Chazelle, who also wrote the screenplay, Whiplash is an hour and 47 minutes long and distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 

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