At a glance, Whiplash appears have a fairly mundane premise. The film follows first-year student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), who aspires to lead a prosperous career in jazz drumming. Through his participation in a jazz band, he aims to eventually be remembered as one of the greats. Chazelle transforms what sounds like a tame story, into an exhilarating drama that is fundamentally about obsession. Andrew is literally willing to go through hell at the hands of his barbaric conductor, Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) to achieve his dreams.
The Oscar-winning J. K. Simmons is what attracted me to this film initially, as I was eager to see how grand his performance really was. I can honestly say his performance is probably one of the best I have seen from an actor in a supporting role. His menacing portrayal of Fletcher, who exerts extreme methods to get the best out of his students in the jazz band, is both compelling and frightening. There is no doubt that Simmons deserves that Oscar.
However, the star of the film is Teller as Andrew, who is comparable to a character in a sports film, as he is intent on rising through the ranks to reach the top. The relationship between Andrew and Fletcher is essentially what drives the plot. Fletcher is the gateway for Andrew’s progression in his drumming career, so he aims to impress and Fletcher expects perfection. Andrew’s place in the band is unstable, as he is opposite other competitors for the core drumming spot. As a result, he becomes increasingly determined to surpass those that stand in his way, and also reach Fletcher’s ridiculously high expectations.
It becomes clear that Andrew dedicates his whole life to drumming. He’s isolated without as much as a single friend or any form of social life, and he even prioritises drumming over seeing his new girlfriend, Nicole (Melissa Benoist). His passion and determination to master the arts of drumming, turns into an obsession that takes him to the brink of madness. It gets to the stage that you start to question whether Andrew actually enjoys what he does. Chazelle captures every intricate detail of Andrew’s struggles, immersing us into his mindset. The viewer is completely aligned with him throughout the whole film, so we feel every pain and frustration as he does. It is hard not to emphasise with Andrew, just because of his sheer devotion.
Besides the support of his dad (Chris Mulkey), Andrew is completely reliant on his own self-belief. It is this type of motivation, bordering on arrogance, that makes us root for him. Fletcher on the other hand, occupies a strange position because I wouldn’t really call him a villain. He is a bad guy with good intentions. He literally tries to bully his students to greatness, so don’t really loathe him, but in no way do you admire him either. So even though he behaves like a maniac for the majority of the film, he remains one of those dark characters you have a bit of respect for. The music is also an enjoyable and Whiplash refers to the song that is played numerous times throughout, and it never gets tiresome.
Ultimately, Whiplash is an enthralling film with a breath-taking narrative, and you might just feel symptoms of whiplash by the end of it. A truly captivating film, with some outstanding performances, and it very much leaves you itching for more.
Quoted: “I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was.”
Directed and written by: Damien Chazelle
Stars: Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist
Distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing
Run Time: 107 min