Whiplash — A movie par excellence
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than "good job".”
Whiplash is a musical masterpiece which revolves around a music student who wants to become a top-notch drummer - ‘One of the greats’ and his authoritative and cut-throat music mentor. Director Damien Chazelle,who has also written the script, has done a fantastic job in his very debut at directing a motion picture. Lead actors, Miles Teller and JK Simmons, give brilliant performances and steal the show by giving a tremendous justice to the script. The film is filled with edge of the seat moments complemented with tightly edited scenes. Ingrained in the movie is a deeply personal message which tells us what goes in mending of an artist.
Whiplash is a strictly character and acting oriented movie, and is strong, inspiring and electric despite being a low budget production. Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) studies music in a fictional Shafer Music Conservatory and drives inspiration from Buddy Rich, one of the most influential Jazz drummers of all time. Movie begins when Terrence Fletcher (JK Simmons), a respected teacher at Shafer, who also has his own studio band, stumbles upon Andrew while he is practising his drums. Andrew’s talent and passion falls in the gaze of Terrence Fletcher who is looking for players for his own well-respected band.
We get a peek into Andrew’s life, his family and his dedication towards drumming. The movie has got some of the toughest drumming pieces and Miles Teller, a drummer himself, executes them brilliantly. Sources tell he used to practise drumming for Whiplash 4 hours each day for 3 days a week. Needless to say, the amount of precision while playing the pieces required in movies like these is paramount and Miles has performed most of the drumming pieces in the movie rather beautifully. However, JK Simmons is the one who steals the show. His fearsome, abusive and merciless character has a underlying depth which ironically makes a viewer drawn to his character. Simmons won an Academy award for Best Acting In a Supporting Role.
Fletcher likes to tell this story about how Jo Jones threw a Cymbal at Charlie Parker when he had messed up which ultimately led him to his breaking point at which he became The Bird. His philosophy is justified by his own dialogue, “There are no two words in English Language more harmful than ‘good job’. And so he makes no hesitation abusing and discouraging Andrew, even after seeing a vital improvement in his performance. JK Simmons gives a jaw-dropping performance handling the role this commanding and brutal.
We understand about Fletcher’s giant thirst for perfection in the infamous ‘Are you rushing or are you dragging’ scene. “Not quite my tempo”, exclaims Fletcher as he cues Andrew to play a particular piece multiple times and all of a sudden hurls a chair at Andrew’s head for playing the note wrong. “Are you rushing or are you dragging” he screams at Andrew’s face as he slaps him demonstrating if he was rushing or dragging.
“Whiplash” speaks about absolute dedication and sacrifices that must be made in forging a great artist. The scenes in which Andrew is shown practising till his face is drenched with sweat and blood trickles from his hands, will send shivers down your spine. Andrew’s passion for drumming borderlines obsession and he is ready to go to any limit to fulfil his dream of being “one of the greats”.
The conversation between Andrew and Fletcher in the bar where Fletcher is invited to play the piano, reveals a softer and empathized side of Fletcher. He explains his side to Andrew and justifies his behaviour. Fletcher adopts the “push harder” teaching style as he aims to make his students achieve beyond they had ever expected; to push them to reach greatness. The single most important thing for his character is perfection in what he does and rest all has no meaning.
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Another powerful scene unfurls itself in the final few minutes of the movie. Andrew is devastated as he has been tricked by Fletcher and his drumming career is over even before it began. He walks out of the stage mid-performance. He meets his father backstage and hugs him and his father says “Let’s go home”. Suddenly something inside Andrew moves and boils. He turns back and returns to the stage, takes his seat on the drums and starts playing them, cutting off Fletcher announcing his next performance. Fletcher barks at him for stealing his show but Andrew just keeps playing. Eventually, Andrew’s performance becomes so appealing to Fletcher that he cues him to the right notes. In rapid and elevating notes, where Andrew hits all the notes with utter grace, both student and his mentor seem to find the right groove and put their hearts in the performance.
According to some people, especially musicians and other jazz-savvy folks, the Jazz that Chazzelle has used in the film is mediocre. Some say, the idea of Jazz in Whiplash is absurd while some say that Fletcher’s justification of not saying “good job” to an artist is ridiculous. Personally, even I think the “good job’ philosophy lies rather in a grey area. Appreciation and positive motivation are crucial in the making of an artist.
How far must one push oneself to succeed? How far can you push someone else to excel? What goes in the creation of the ‘great’? Are the important questions that Whiplash raises. Miles Teller and JK Simmons giving probably the best performances of their careers, make this musical, sharp and intense. Damien Chazzelle had said he wants the movie to be a “editor’s showcase” and it absolutely is. Whiplash makes a strong commentary on tremendous effort and dedication required to achieve your dreams.