Last January, 30 year old Director Damien Chazelle debuted his film Whiplash in the US Dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival, stating that he had “no idea what will come of the film”. One year later, Whiplash is nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Writing, Best Editing, and Best Sound Mixing, along with a Supporting Actor nomination for J.K. Simmons. Yet, even with this wide array of national attention, chances are 90% of the people sitting in your local coffee shop have never even heard of Whiplash, let alone Damien Chazelle. It’s time for a change in tempo.
Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a first-year student at the best music school in the country. He longs to be the best of the best, finding himself behind a drum kit in a mid-level jazz band, playing back up to a ginger tool bag. Then he meets Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a terrifying instructor, but leader of the most prestigious ensemble at the school. While Fletcher catches wind of Andrew in a late-night independent practice, their relationship quickly turns beyond a typical mentor/mentee story, with ruthless encounters and an irrational pursuit of perfection.
In their first extended conversation, Fletcher shares a story of how saxophone great Charlie Parker became Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, with Jo Jones throwing a cymbal at his head, nearly killing him. A year later, adversity brought Parker back to the Reno where he played, “the best solo the world ever heard”. Whiplash follows Andrew as his quest for success turns into obsession, from tampered relationships to physical and emotional compromises that nearly cost him his life. The two characters seemingly square off on the daily, leading up to the climax showdown performance. While most protagonist vs. opposition films end up predictable, there were frequent moments where I found myself sitting straight up in my seat forgetting to breathe, in anticipation for what would come next. Whiplash is dark, heart-pounding, and relentless as it portrays jazz performances as if they were a fight scene; blood and all. You will leave the theater exhausted, yet eagerly anticipating another beat of the drum. It appears as though the cinematography was orchestrated by a jazz great itself, the camera moving on-beat with every hit of the snare, including a series of fast-paced duels between Fletcher and Neyman ending with bloody sticks and broken hearts. Whiplash felt as though it had been packed with morsels of fantastic films; a breakup scene that paralleled the Social Network, the darkness and eerie movement of Black Swan, the lighting hues of a Nicolas Winding Refn piece, and a fast-exchanging dinner table conversation with family and friends right out of Aaron Sorkin’s playbook
Miles Teller has been on my radar since 2013, when he appeared alongside Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now. I’ve since seen him in “That Awkward Moment” and “Two Night Stand”, where he stood out as the witty, well-timed comedian with a knack for impromptu additions to the script. But this film is a redefining moment for Teller, whom I predict to be a household name in film in the next three years.
If there is any must-see film on the circuit this year that you aren’t seeing on preview reels or in Sponsored Posts on your favorite social media, it’s Whiplash. I’m boastfully predicting J.K. Simmons to lock down that Supporting Actor award, and will faithfully be supporting anything that Chazelle puts his hands on in the coming years.