“Playing catch up a bit out of order. Watching Whiplash was such a visceral experience, I wanted to recap it while the feeling was still in my bones.
It sounds simple enough. Whiplash is about a young drummer Andrew (Miles Teller), studying at a Julliard-esque school with the ambition of being the best of his generation. He aspires to be a part of the best jazz band in the school, led by the drill sergeant like Fletcher (JK Simmons). He gets more than he bargains for with Fletcher’s extreme teaching style and harsh criticisms.
Maybe it was the slight caffeine jolt from the Mountain Dew I had a few sips of to help me thru the night’s double feature (I usually avoid caffeine), but I don’t think I’ve ever felt my heart pounding as hard and as fast thru a film as it did during this one. The range of emotions that Teller depicted, I felt alongside him. The thing is, I could relate in the worst way.
I may not be much of a musician. I can play a little guitar, but with nowhere near a noteworthy skill level. What I am is a dancer. I know what it’s like to be in a rigorous artistic program. Maybe not to the level shown on screen, but I too have dealt with an instructor who teaches by yelling. I know what it’s like to try and give in to your passion, but being too on edge trying to strive for perfection. Hell, the need to be perfect extended beyond trying to keep my childhood ballet instructor yelling at me. It was in trying to keep my parents from getting upset if I got a bad grade on my report card (where bad was defined by a ridiculously high number that most would be ecstatic to receive). Even now, in the more laid back dance classes I take, I feel that same anxiety around getting every step perfect. I tried getting back into ballet over the summer, and it was weeks until I could relax and let myself breathe. I had a lot to work thru to truly understand that this instructor was more chill, and if she were to correct me, it would be out of kindness.
Watching everything Andrew allowed himself to be put thru, I felt my sore muscles from this week’s dancing tightening up even more. Fletcher verbally abused, yelled, threw things, made horrific threats, and was generally not someone you’d want to be around. Yet what maddened me more, was that Andrew put up with it. He wasn’t entirely blameless in everything that was going on. He made some very poor decisions along the way, allowing the situation to escalate and further endangering his own well being.
Our leading men were both fantastic. Miles Teller has grown, taking incrementally more and more difficult roles over time, rising to each occasion beautifully. He also had the added challenge of believably playing the drums like an expert. Often times it was his own blood on the kit. And Simmons, oh my God. I’ve admired him for a long time. He really lights up the screen in the bit roles he always gets. Usually the loveable but clueless dad, or the doofy minor character. Fletcher is as far removed from anything I’ve seen him do as he could possibly be. I was scared of him on more than one occassion during the movie. Total commitment to a role that’s difficult because he’s so unlikeable. No one wants to get into that headspace. But he did and it was incredible. The title Whiplash doesn’t just refer to one of the songs they work on, but also the feeling you get watching the camera pan back and forth very quickly trying to keep up with the intensity coming from both sides. Insane.
Between walking out of the auditorium and getting to the T station, I heard multiple groups of people talking about the film. All of them expression some of the same feelings I had about it. My first instinct on the way home was to text a musically inclined friend and order him to see this. Always a mark of a good film when I have to tell someone specific to see it. I’d also heard that Metallica drummer, Lars Ulrich, was so impressed with the movie, he reached out to Teller and asked if there was anything he could do to help promote it. Pretty soon he started hosting screenings. So at least we know it’s got the seal of approval from someone who knows these things. Me, I’m still trying to get my heart rate back down.
Whiplash – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/