Film Review by Kam Williams
Prodigy and Perfectionist Professor Square-Off in Mesmerizing Jazz Drama
19 year-old Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) got more than he bargained for when he entered the hallowed halls of mythical Shaffer Conservatory. The promising prodigy had reasonably expected what was arguably the best music school in the entire country to be the ideal place to pursue his ambition of becoming a celebrated jazz drummer.
But, from the first day of class, he ends up under the thumb of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an impatient perfectionist with a twisted teaching method. This Machiavellian professor’s approach involves not only belittling his students but pitting them against one another by making them compete for spots in the school’s elite performance band.
In Andrew’s case, he has to contend for the coveted drummer’s chair with both an upperclassman (Nate Lang) and a fellow newcomer (Austin Stowell). Meanwhile, he finds himself having to duck chairs being thrown at his head while simultaneously being called everything from a “retard” to a “pansy ass” to a “tonal catastrophe” by a taskmaster who rationalizes the abuse on the tough love theory that his job is “to push people beyond what was expected of them.”
A perverse relationship evolves in which Andrew willingly breaks up with his patient girlfriend (Melissa Benoist) and surrenders any semblance of a social life in order to “Practice! Practice! Practice!” for the sake of his Svengali-like coach. However, such a narrow, self-negating path gradually takes a toll on his body and soul, as evidenced by bloody, calloused hands and ensuing bouts of depression.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench), Whiplash is a wonderfully-electrifying drama very much akin to an overcoming-the-odds sports saga. Yet, it might be better thought of as a novel variation on the protégé-mentor theme typified by such relatively benign offerings as The Emperor’s Club, Dead Poets Society and Mr. Holland’s Opus.
The groundbreaking adventure has already generated considerable Academy Award buzz, thanks to universal critical and popular acclaim. Look for veteran thespian J.K. Simmons to land a well-deserved nomination at the very least, but don’t be surprised if his co-star Teller and up-and-coming director to be reckoned with Chazelle are invited to Oscar night, too.
A compelling, coming-of-age tale about a lifelong dream-turned-neverending nightmare, all because of a sadistic studio bandleader from Hell!
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and some sexual references
Running time: 107 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
To see a trailer for Whiplash, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d_jQycdQGo