Whiplash (2014) – 9/10
– Damien Chazelle probably didn’t expect the second film that he wrote and directed to become the sensation that it became. After writing and directing his first film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, he contributed writing credits to the independent thriller Grand Piano and the horror movie The Last Exorcism: Part 2. Working on those projects, he had wanted to work on a script he had written about a jazz drummer in high school. It went from being a script that he didn’t want to show anyone because it “felt too personal”, to being named one of the best unmade scripts of 2012. After finally being picked up by a producer who suggested J.K. Simmons as the role of the music teacher, a short version of it was released at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival which helped raise the funds necessary to release the full length version in 2014. The movie follows Miles Teller as Andrew Neiman, an ambitious music student at the prestigious Schaffer Conservatory in New York. Despite being a first-year student, he impresses conductor Terrance Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons) and becomes the alternate drummer for the studio band. The tension from the movie comes from two ways. One way comes directly from Fletcher and his expectations of perfection. He is abusive towards his students. He yells at his students, mocks them, insults them, humiliates them, slaps them, and throws chairs at them. He does this because this is how he truly believes he will get the best out of them and make them world class musicians. The other way that tension is presented in this movie is through the character of Andrew himself. He wants to reach this level of perfection and impress Fletcher in any way possible. He pushes himself to his breaking point, practicing until he bleeds, breaking up with his girlfriend so that he will not be distracted, and the inner struggle is constantly seen as he gets frustrated at himself as much as getting frustrated at Fletcher. This movie has elements that are both relatable and over exaggerated for dramatic effect. As a person who has been in music programs before, it made me think of one teacher I had in particular. He too liked to push his students past what they thought they were capable of to get the best out of them. He never did it in a way that was even remotely close to the abuse that Fletcher inflicts on his students, but this teacher did have a way of tapping into his students minds and making them feel like they were not good enough, leading them to either cry or giving them just enough drive to prove him wrong. Because I had this similar experience, I greatly enjoyed this movie from start to finish. I was constantly on the edge of my seat, and it wasn’t just because of the tense soundtrack that is created by constant drumming throughout the film. I know some people who did not see why this movie was so hyped about, but that was because they did not have that same attachment to it. The film contains classic jazz standards such as “Whiplash” and “Caravan”. It contains references to great musicians such as Buddy Rich and Charlie Parker. It reminded me of my jazz band days and what it felt like to be surrounded by musicians who were looking to take your spot. There was a lot this this movie got right, but in the end, the over exaggerations reminded you that it was just a movie after all. It was one of my favorite films of last year and it definitely deserves to be watched by anybody who has been in a music program before and would be able to relate to it.