Whiplash (R) ★★★½

Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons star in "Whiplash." Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.
Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons star in “Whiplash.” Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.

Whiplash Likely to Drum Up Oscar Win for J.K. Simmons

When someone has the potential for brilliance teachers should help them reach their very best. But where do you draw the line between pushing a student to succeed and terrorizing them to be nearly perfect? The latest drama by the young writer-director Damien Chazelle (The Last Exorcism: Part II, 2013) titled Whiplash, explores the relationship between a student and teacher and the desire to be great in a very simple, yet truly compelling story. In fact, this film, which received little marketing, is now nominated for the Academy Award’s Best Picture.

Whiplash dives into the intense, lesser-known world of competitive music and the sacrifices one makes to succeed. Rising star, Miles Teller (Divergent, 2014) plays Andrew Neyman, an ambitious 19-year old jazz drummer, whose one-track mind is constantly vying for a top chair in his elite New York City music school, Schaffer Conservatory. His parent’s unstable relationship growing up, and his father’s failed writing career only fuel Andrew’s motivation to become one of the greats.

One day, Andrew is randomly discovered by the intimidating Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, Labor Day, 2013), a talented band instructor who is known for training the best, just not in the most conventional manner. Fletcher is known for his terrifying teaching methods, instructing his students using fear, insults and the upmost disrespect. Fletcher notices Andrew’s gift and transfers him into his highly regarded jazz ensemble. Andrew is ecstatic, intimated and rightfully nervous. Those feelings take a drastic turn as soon as the first practice starts. Fletcher lays into Andrew in every way possible, humiliating and threatening him to no end. Although crushed, Andrew took on Fletcher’s drill sergeant-like treatment as a challenge to push himself that much harder, truly enduring blood, sweat, and tears. His determination quickly evolves into an obsession, which spirals into personal destruction.

Simmons’ performance is unnerving and breathtaking in its most fearful sense. With his bipolar-like behavior, you never know when he will explode. Although frightening, Simmons keeps us guessing and wanting more. What degrading comment will he think of next? Does he truly believe that terrorizing is the best approach when teaching, or are there underlying factors from his personal life that we aren’t privy to? The script leaves Fletcher’s personal life a mystery, which may have been helpful for the audience to know. This film showcases Simmons’ acting chops perfectly, and many took notice as Whiplash drums up another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Teller’s work must also be noted. He not only continues to prove his exceptional acting skills, but also shows that he can endure the physical challenges. Based on this performance and his past work, it’s unlikely he will leaving Hollywood anytime soon.

Teller and Simmons are the main faces that we see on the screen, and they can carry the film. While raw and brutal, Chazelle pulls the film together in such a way that it’s thoroughly entertaining, up until the very last note.

Bottom-Line? Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons’ performances hit high notes in Whiplash. Their student to teacher relationship is unnerving, intense, and puzzling, but the music must go on. It’s satisfying to see this film receive the industry’s praise and firm up its place on the map. Be sure to check out the showings at the theaters near you. This drama will engage you from the start. You won’t want to miss a beat.

Cast: Miles Teller (Andrew Neyman), J.K. Simmons (Terence Fletcher), Melissa Benoist (Nicole), Austin Stowell (Ryan), Paul Reiser (Jim), Nate Lang (Carl)

Credits: Directed and written by Damien Chazelle

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

Run Time: 106 minutes

Jessica Aymond © January 20, 2015