Whiplash movie review: music as a savage beast

Whiplash green light

If you didn’t think music could involve actual blood, sweat, and tears, this breathtakingly visceral coming-of-artistic-age drama will set you straight.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

What price creative success? What price personal achievement? How far is too far to push yourself — or to push others — on the road to a much desired greatness? These are the intriguing questions at the heart of writer-director Damien Chazelle’s second feature film, and there are no easy answers… and the hard answer isn’t a particularly pleasant one, though it is refreshingly honest. Andrew (Miles Teller: Two Night Stand) is a drum student at “the best music school in the country” — it’s New York’s Juilliard, disguised with a fake name here — taken under the wing of a drill sergeant of a jazz teacher, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons: Men, Women & Children), whom the whole school is terrified of. This seems like a less than positive environment for fostering creativity… but isn’t discipline also a necessary factor in honing any talent? Fletcher’s methods are, at a minimum, abusive, and as Chazelle thrilling depicts the interplay between Andrew and Fletcher, often downright villainous. (There are moments when you will hiss out loud at Fletcher’s wickedness; Simmons clear glee at playing such an atypical bad guy is delicious.) I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie about music — or about any creative endeavor — that is thisvisceral: if you didn’t think music could involve actual blood, sweat, and tears, Chazelle corrects that misapprehension in ways that will have you catching your breath and then cheering. But even as we are getting entirely caught up in a sort of physical and spiritual dedication we rarely see onscreen (unless it’s about football), we’re also challenged to reexamine our attitudes, both personal and cultural, toward that dedication. Is what we’re witnessing unduly extreme, or utterly necessary?

viewed during the 58th BFI London Film Festival

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Whiplash for its representation of girls and women.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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