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Before reading, as always, take a look at my rules and perspective on reviews!
Movie: Whiplash (2014) Rating: R (for language and gratuitous acts of violence (and self-violence). Length: 1 hr, 47 minutes. IMAX (?): NO. Family-Friendly: NO. If you have problems with vulgar language, sexual innuendo ( much like the type in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and worse ), or personally abusive language, then you will not like this film. It is at times brutally frank and to a degree meant to portray a bit of psychological disturbance, which you might not want young teenagers to see (though we know how the language is these days). If your kid is a mature high school junior or senior, then they might be able to handle it, but for some, it might not be the best idea for them to see this film. (I seem maybe a bit oversensitive about this to you, but I know some very mature and sophisticated worldly folk who would not like this kind of thing, so I toss in the provisos).
Even though I might not particularly care for the subject matter of the film involved, I decided for the purposes of The Buffalo Trader Movie Corner to “take one for the team” and to see as many Oscar-contending films as I could this year. It has been difficult this year, because of the limited release of many of these films ( as theaters like to make money first, then show the Oscar contenders (which often do not sell many tickets)), and that there are so many limited-release independent films among the films contending for the awards. I have done the best I can do so far, but, for the most part, these films have great single or two actor performances, yet are not exactly the “Lawrence Of Arabia” or “The Godfather” sagas that made up the former Best Picture award winners. The movie I am about to review, Whiplash, was the Best Picture at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and has been nominated for 5 Oscars, including Best Motion Picture Of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (J.K. Simmons), Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, Best Achievement In Editing (doesn’t every film get nominated for that lol), and Best Achievement In Sound Mixing.
If you are familiar with many of the coming-of-age academic movie classics like “The Paper Chase“, “Educating Rita“, or Mona Lisa Smile, there are almost common running themes of finding self-confidence via the experience of living apart from family and friends, questioning one’s own values, and being challenged by rigorous professors or curricula. Such is the backdrop of this film, except this time, the actor playing the student at a most prestigious music school (Miles Teller as Andrew). wants to be a world-class jazz drummer (like his idol, Buddy Rich). He is faced, as the youngest kid in his school. with a most demanding and even intimidating jazz music instructor (Mr. Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons) who uses strong verbal and physical intimidation tactics in an attempt to get the best out of his students. If you have been in a tough field of academics or study, as I have, you can relate easily to this scenario. I had a very intimidating organic chemistry professor, and in my final quarter at Georgia Tech, I was held up as an example of making bad essential assumptions in a process economics class (for which, as with my major and with my general record) I was an honors graduate. I was essentially failed in a class that I could not take for ANOTHER YEAR minimum if I had failed the class. I did learn a valuable lesson from the first exam (and I aced the final too), but I was being threatened with being tossed out of the program with only 7 weeks left until graduation. Andrew, in this film, is quite intense, talented, and incredibly shy. He meets and falls in love with his first serious girlfriend, and that only serves to increase the stress that he feels as he is being measured up by very similar, very talented people. While Mr. Fletcher urges Andrew to relax, he knows by Fletcher’s body language that he is about to be taken on a roller coaster ride.
What transpires is quite a feat of acting (and psychological edginess) on the part of both actors in their roles. If you are familiar with J.K. Simmons, his prior acting chops include playing every “loser dad” in countless TV commercials, being the dean of “Farmers University” in the Farmer’s Insurance TV ads, and as the voice of the yellow M&M peanut candy in many of the last 14 years of M&M Candy commercials. Not exactly an “Actor’s Studio” resume, but I am sure that it was commercially rewarding to him ( as voice over actors are paid some of the highest salaries of any performer, if continuously hired, as he has been). In the last decade, he has participated in many series television projects, a “Spiderman” film, and other more noteworthy items. What is not expected from him, which he handily delivers in Whiplash, is a tour-de-force of deep seeded anger, rage, intimidation to the point of threatening if not almost acting on violence, and perhaps one of the closest perfect imitations of manic depression every put on a movie screen. I quite frankly was not looking for this (and if I had to do it again, I would avoid it), but as I wanted to finish the film, I was amazed at how well (and brutally) he pulled it off. What you get from Miles Teller is an equally compelling display of the student trying unsuccessfully to emulate Mr. Fletcher’s instructions (which is met by his extreme displeasure). In the process of trying to please the instructor, he presses himself to his very physical limits to match the cadence and timing that he is given to do. He demonstrates his own lack of inner confidence in a manner similar to Mr. Simmons, and the interaction both leads to a very intense hour and 47 minutes of drama. It is not for everyone either, but it is still amazing nonetheless.
I will not say anything more about the film other than the ending of it leaves you feeling bad about how it turns out for both of them, and how badly each other seem to rub off on each other through their interactions. This movie has received a ton of criticism from jazz musicians and music instructors, as they claim (and probably rightly so) that these types of interactions would not be allowed to happen. It is also a major criticism among the jazz musicians that any serious jazz student would ever idolize Buddy Rich. It seems that his star has lost its luster among modern jazz practitioners, who discredit his ability to compose and read music. What he had, which I suspect these same musicians envy, was his physical adroitness, his timing, and his photographic memory, which would allow him to memorize a set with cadence, stops, and tempo, after hearing it only once. I really liked Buddy Rich, but hey, I am just a redneck after all.
J.K. Simmons performance is every bit as spectacular as Michael Keaton’s portrayal of delusion in Birdman. I didn’t care for that film much either, but again, this year’s Oscar-contending films will be remembered by either solo or duo performances and not for complete bodies of work. The only exception to that might be Boyhood, which was held together by 12 years of work and the dedicated collaboration of an ensemble of capable actors. If you think you can handle the very disturbing dialog and action, and want to see how a seemingly mild-mannered guy like J.K. Simmons can turn into a raging demon between periods of even calm and affability, then you will probably want to see Whiplash. Miles Teller, as good and as compelling as his performance is, is overshadowed by Simmons, but Simmons is the very dark protagonist of this film. To give you an idea of his chances of winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, he won similar awards in EVERY major or minor award ceremony except for the Cannes Film Festival, for which the film was not entered. He won Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, AFI Awards (American Film Institute), AAFCA, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, American Cinema Editors, Austin Film Critics Association, Australian Film Institute, Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, Central Ohio Film Critics Association, Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards, and the list goes on. I doubt seriously that this film will end up on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but, I am sure if they had a serious award, Mr. Simmons might get it.
At any rate, he seems like a shoe-in for the Oscar, and for that reason, you might want to see it.
Out of 10 stars, I give it a 6. It is more intense than I prefer to see in a drama, but the actors may just be well-remembered for this film. Remember, from me, a 6 is a generous rating for a film I would recommend under the provisos previously stated.
That’s it for now folks. Thanks for supporting The Buffalo Trader Movie Corner!