Believing is Art: Whiplash

Chris and I saw this movie a couple weeks back and loved it! Here is Chris’s review of the fantastic film!

The “struggling artist” genre is perhaps what I fall most prey to loving more than any other genre, for a lack of a better term: it’s my chick flick. Perhaps, this is because my own desires and inability to be a great artist (just being honest). Some of the best films made are about the ups and downs of the artistic life. The beloved Fellini picture 8 ½ best shows the weight that is carried on an artist (or a filmmaker as it is in 8 ½) whose public expectations have surpassed his own artistic desires. The Coen Brother’s, Inside Llweyn Davis, deals with trappings of the narcissistic and stubborn artist who is unwilling to play for the adoring crowds. While The Red Shoes showed the sacrifice that is sometimes demanding to accomplish acclaim and heights that few are willing or capable to reach. Each of theses films are at times brutally honest of the unglamorous parts of such sought after avenues, while speaking to the need to create.

Whiplash is the story of Andrew (played by Miles Teller), a young jazz drummer, who attends one of the most respected music schools in America. In only his first semester, he grabs the attention of the most renowned (and feared) teacher in the school, Professor Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons), who pulls Andrew out of a class to have him join Fletcher’s own class band to be the alternate drummer. Although in they’re initial interactions Fletcher comes off as Mr. Chips, his true colors as a hard nose psychopath comes out in the band sessions. Both Andrew and Fletcher are trying to gain something from this “relationship”. For the student, it’s the pursuit of becoming the next Buddy Rich, a great jazz drummer, while also ultimately earning the respect of Fletcher. For the teacher, he has someone he can form into a true talent with extreme measures to do so for the sake of art.

Damien Chazzele (writer/director of Whiplash) comes from the school of Scorsese with a very energetic style of direction with much of the feel and pacing due to the fine editing that matches perfectly with Andrew’s jazz drumming. Many think what makes a Scorsese film a “Scorsese film” is the violence but that’s just a lazy observation. The strength of Scorsese is knowing when to turn the pacing, energy and cuts up to a ten or to turn it down to a five. Chazzele has this similar eye for pace that can be seen in Scorsese films, in particular Mean Streets and Goodfellas. What Chazzele perhaps does best, is what he accomplishes through his collaboration with the superb performance of J.K. Simmons. This truly is an eye opening performance for Simmons, who has always been a trustworthy character actor in a number of films (Juno and the original Spider-Man movies). In the early parts of the film, Fletcher lurks around the spaces of the music school like the shark from Jaws; you know at some point your going to see him in full attack mode but Chazzele wants to save that for when you feel relaxed and unprepared. Simmons plays Fletcher masterfully without sentiment and is someone who knows his own strengths as a teacher and how to pull the talent out of the best musicians with a drill sergeant attitude. Some of the best moments of the film are seeing Fletcher terrifying his class musicians, you’ll find yourself laughing in horror at the evil, manipulative things coming out this man’s mouth. Miles Teller is emerging as a talent with his charm and the “every young man” appeal in other roles (The Spectacular Now and Divergent) but his very reserved as Andrew, that is until he gets behind his drum set, where he shines and explodes. His spark comes alive whenever he has to display or fight for his talent whether in discussion or in showing his abilities.

Without giving much away, in the last fifteen minutes, Andrew is given the opportunity to really show what he has. Fletcher puts in front of him a challenge, in which he either has to step up to or fold under. What proceeds to happen is without a doubt the most exciting 10-15 minutes captured on film this year (this includes any big budget explosion action movie). It’s mesmerizing and will suck you in, like as if you where a longtime jazz fan. I know nothing about jazz music except for the occasional times my mother would play Kind of Blue or Bitches Brew while cleaning the house when I was a kid but this movie gave me a strong desire to play the greats (Louis Armstrong, Buddy Rich and Miles Davis) when I got home.

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