On Saturday my husband and I went to see “Whiplash”.
It was the seventh of the eight films nominated for Best Picture this year that I’ve seen. Maybe “American Sniper” will knock my socks off but based on the seven movies I’ve seen there are two films that stand out way above the rest, the frontrunner “Boyhood” and “Whiplash”. The rest range from not good at all (The Grand Budapest Hotel) to good (Selma) to very good (The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything and Birdman), only “Boyhood” and “Whiplash” are great movies.
Since this year’s crop of Oscar contenders has been disappointing to me I went into “Whiplash” with relatively low expectations.I was expecting a good performance from Best Supporting Actor frontrunner J.K. Simmons (but even with him I was expecting a variation of the asshole thing I’ve seen him do before) but little else. Within the first twenty minutes of the movie my expectations were blown away. “Whiplash” was engrossing from the word go and it was incredibly intense.
While describing the movie as the relationship between a college student who wants to be a great drummer and his intense almost psychotic teacher is accurate it can’t possibly convey the whole film.
The film speaks to so much more than that basic premise. The film is about the value/destruction of ambition. In the United States of America we are fed the lie that you can be great at whatever you want if you are only willing to work hard enough. This film plays on that. If you are willing to be the best what are you willing to sacrifice to get there? Having spent the last ten years in secondary classrooms I know all about tough love, it is something that can be the best teaching tool at your disposal as an educator. However, the film asks the question, what is the line between tough love that pushes somebody to be better and abuse?
As I mentioned before I was expecting a variation of the asshole J.K. Simmons has played before on “Oz” and in the first “Spiderman” series. That is true in some respect. His character (Fletcher) is certainly an asshole, but the great screenplay (by Damien Chazelle) gives him enough quite moments when he’s not screaming Simmons to able add and incredible level of depth to his character.
There was a moment when I said wow because I really wasn’t expecting Simmons to be that good…Spoiler alert…What I loved about the character of Fletcher was how he’s (almost) always playing a game. It is in those quite moments where you think he is being nice that he is at his most awful. For it is in those moments when he uses his charm to collect information that he can use to his advantage later…It really is great performance. And as much as I would love Ethan Hawke and Edward Norton to have an Oscar they are going to have to wait. This one belongs to J.K. Simmons.
As great as J.K. Simmons is in his role it is still only a supporting role. The film is about Andrew, brilliantly played by Miles Teller. It is a shame that all of the attention that Simmons has gotten for his role didn’t translate into more acclaim for Teller because his fantastic. Teller gives us a very real portrait of somebody in the arts who wants to be great no matter what.
His ambition/obsession comes at a cost but it is clearly what he wants more than anything. What Teller does so well is he creates a character with full dimensions. He is a thousand times better than Steve Carell is in “Foxcatcher”.
I never imagined a film about jazz music could be as intense as “Whiplash” is. In a sense the movie is a musical, in another sense it is a drama and in yet another sense it’s a psychological thriller. But what matters most is that when all is said and done it’s just a great movie that should be seen by anybody who appreciates a movie that has more than just CGI.
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