Movie Review: Whiplash

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There’s a scene in Whiplash where the camera pans over Andrew’s shoulder (played by Miles Teller) as he’s lying on his bed tapping his fingers to an imagined tempo reverberating inside his head to a quote on his wall that says, “if you can’t do it right, you’ll end up joining a rock band.”

Or something to that effect. I don’t remember the quote verbatim.

It was a quick shot, and subtle, but the message (and joke) was clear: real drummers don’t join rock bands. And they certainly don’t go out of their way to listen to Bon Jovi. My apologies to New Jersey.

Real drummers do jazz.

And that’s the where the opening scene of Whiplash takes us. The screen is black and all you hear is the gradual beat of a drum as it slowly speeds up. We then see Andrew sitting alone in a room behind a drum set as the camera crawls in closer and closer to the inevitable speedy crescendo.

And all I could think to myself was, “holy shit, he’s actually doing that. Miles’ got skills!”

More on that point in a bit.

Andrew is day one into attending the prestigious and cutthroat music school he’s been accepted into (think: Juilliard in everything but name), when he looks up and sees one of the teachers, Terrance Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons (otherwise known as “that guy in that movie,” or “Juno’s dad”) standing there listening and watching.

There’s an exchange of words, an awkward interaction, and you can tell Andrew is going to shit a drumstick he’s so terrified of his teacher. You just know that, eventually, bad things are going to happen.

And they do.

I’m not giving any of the plot away when I say Fletcher is a douche to the douchiest degree. He’s an old-school teacher who demands a lot from his students and isn’t scared to lash into them – both verbally and physically – in the blink of an eye. In one of the more memorable scenes, Fletcher lays into Andrew making him cry.

“Are you one of those single tear people? You are a worthless pancy-ass who is now weeping and slobbering all over my drumset like a nine year old girl!”

It was both funny and “fidget in my seat uncomfortable” at the same time.

To his credit, Simmons knocked this role out of the ballpark. I couldn’t help but compare his performance to that of Sgt. Hartman in Full Metal Jacket. I was half expecting a “Private Pyle” reference at some point.

Simmons has always been regarded as a renowned character actor, oftentimes playing idiosyncratic roles, and it was amazing to see him in more of a dramatic setting outside of the scope we’re used to seeing him in, sans HBO’s Oz.

And I have to say, my man looked YOKED up in this movie. Easily one of the most diesel looking music teachers in cinematic history. He could totally kick Mr. Holland’s ass. And take his lunch money for good measure.

If Simmons doesn’t receive a Best Supporting Actor nod at this year’s Oscars it will be a travesty.

A travesty I tell you.

And equally as impressive is Miles Teller. I remember first seeing Teller a few years ago in the Nicole Kidman/Aaron Eckart vehicle, Rabbit Hole, and holding his own against the two Hollywood heavyweights.

Up until now he’s been best known for his role in The Spectacular Now – the campy (albeit well reviewed) teenage love/coming of age story also starring Shailene Woodley. I don’t doubt that it’s a decent movie. I didn’t see it. Mainly because I have a penis.

Giving credit where it’s due, though, Teller does demonstrate impressive ability. Having “studied” drums since he was 15 in real life, it wasn’t a stretch for him to play the part of a percussionist protege.

He pulls it off flawlessly.

Unlike, say, Freddie Prinze Jr. back in the day in the movie Summer Catch. Remember that one? Didn’t think so. To refresh your memory, Prinze plays a college baseball player who throws 95 MPH, despite having the throwing mechanics of a one-armed shark.

Exactly. Sharks don’t even have arms!

It was that bad.

Anyways, apparently Teller went through some sort of drumming bootcamp, practicing four hours per day for 3-4 months to prepare for the role. It pays off.

I listened to an interview that writer/director, Damien Chazelle, did on EW radio and he revealed that there was little “movie magic” involved in masking Teller’s performance. 80-85% of what you see in the movie with regards to drumming is him.  Cool!

And speaking of Chazelle, he was able to make this movie because he first made a short film a while back – also titled Whiplash – which won a bunch of praise and awards. Because of it’s success, he was then able to get enough funding to make the main feature.

I suspect that this will also earn a lot of praise and awards.

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