Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Whiplash

Starring: J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
Director: Damien Chazelle
Running Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Rating: R


This movie is intense. It reminded me of (dare I say) "Center Stage" or even a touch of "Black Swan" - when an artist is so dedicated to their craft things start getting weird. However, this wasn't the story of an artist's self-torture, it portrays the hellacious torture on behalf of an instructor. J.K. Simmons isn't JK-ing around in this role. As esteemed music professor Fletcher, when he isn't beefing up in the gym, he's clearly trying to think of ways to ruin his students' lives. He should be honored for Best Actor at the very least, but it's safe to say he'll no longer be recognized as a character actor or that dude from the Farmers Insurance commercials. Newcomer Miles Teller is brilliant. It's difficult to tell whether he is an actor who can drum or a drummer who can act, because he kicks ass at both.

Mad guns yo!
There's not a lot of exposition here - you dive right in, which is a good thing. You don't need a lot of background to know that Andrew (Teller) is in his first year at a music conservatory school. He clearly has the drive and talent behind the drum set, even pushing himself so hard that his hands bleed like ballerinas feet do during pointe. Watching him bandage his hands and prepare his sticks is not unlike how a dancer prepares her shoes and her body.

Blood-stained cymbols and sweat-soaked T-shirts all become the norm once he joins Fletcher's advanced band class. Though Andrew appears to have gained his trust and approval, Fletcher's physical and emotional abuse soon becomes the tipping point. Andrew even flees the scene of a disastrous car wreck with a concussion so as to not miss a band competition. We truly can't tell whether Fletcher's inhumane treatment of his students is really just a genuine desire for them to push themselves to be the best, or if he is bitter from his own failures and is just a miserable person.

Paul Reiser (love Mad About You!) is the only other semi-recognizable face, besides "Glee" fans, who will be happy (?) to see the return of Riley. This film builds, as a symphony does, with an incredible climax, though you kind of zone out during it instead of get any real closure. I like a good amount of resolution. Instead, you can be happy that Andrew just leaves it all out onstage.

Should this win Best Picture? No. Am I glad it got recognized for being different with its plot, lighting choices, cinematography and performances? Yes. This is definitely not like most movies and for that I applaud it. This film will make your anxiety levels rise, and you'll especially appreciate it if you're into music. This will be a great soundtrack, though Simmons' and Teller's performances really take center stage.

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