Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons
WHIPLASH (2014). Written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Note: This review reveals certain key plot points

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a young student at the Shaffer Conservatory of Music. His teacher, Fletcher (J. K. Simmons), is a monster who deliberately humiliates his students, subjecting them to both verbal and physical abuse. It's unlikely that such an instructor, who acts more like a drill sergeant at boot camp than anything else, would last very long at the conservatory, but that's only the first of the unrealistic things that happen in this contrived movie. The acting is good, and an interesting aspect to the picture is that Andrew is in his own way also an arrogant prick; therefore we have two unlikable lead characters. Whiplash not only suggests that one must ignore everything else if one is to achieve greatness -- which may well be true -- but it also suggests that the only way a teacher can bring out the best in his students is to subject them to every possible kind of emotional abuse. Fletcher would have it that this molds great artists, but he really comes off as an emotionally stunted sadist. The trouble with Whiplash is that the two main characters are more types than real people; Fletcher is especially one-dimensional, as we learn absolutely nothing about his private life. Worse is that the movie throws out all logic for what might be termed a feel-good conclusion. Blaming Andrew for getting him fired, Fletcher hires him for his band but deliberately neglects to give him the sheet music for a song that he's completely unfamiliar with. Why on earth would the egotistical Fletcher risk ruining the band's performance and making himself look bad? Fletcher may be an asshole, but he isn't that stupid, and could easily have gotten revenge in another manner. Andrew manages to deliver an outstanding drum solo in spite of everything, and the movie audience, ignoring all the problems with Whiplash, cheers both onscreen and off; now these two pricks have bonded. Simmons, who appeared on Law and Order but has mostly done voice-over work for cartoons, won a Best Supporting Oscar for Whiplash, but one could argue that Fletcher is just another cartoon character. On the plus side the movie is never boring, moves fast, and is well-edited, but the nasty instructor who debases his charges is pretty much a tired old stereotype. Because there are no dinosaurs or car chases some people overpraised the movie as a masterpiece, which it definitely isn't. I also have to say, all of this agony for a drummer -- you'd think he was Enrico Caruso!

Verdict: Disappointing study of obsessed and unpleasant people. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

Wow, Bill, I really felt differently about this than you. I loved it so much I saw it in the theaters twice...wanted my best friend to see it too. I agree that it is dark and intense, out of touch with reality, but i thought that the chemistry between teacher and student was brilliant and compulsively entertaining. Kind of a male version of Black Swan...To each his own, I suppose!

I do agree that the characters are archetypes-stereotypes-one dimensional–but as you said, the energy of the film carried me away. I also thought the jazz music was quite exciting and downloaded some of the tracks from iTunes...

William said...

You're not alone in liking this movie -- I'm definitely in the minority, although there are other naysayers. The picture certainly does have energy and the performances are good, but on a dramatic level it just didn't work for me and part of it I found unbelievable. I think I liked "Black Swan" better although that one had problems to. Good actors in all!