“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘Good Job,'” that’s a line that is used in Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash, and it couldn’t be more true. A film’s perfection defined by the the characters’ search of it is truly rare, and to watch it play out it is bloody strumming glory is both intense and a revelation.
But 2014 has been plagued by mediocrity, films that just settle for the “good job” and nothing more. Bad writing, an oversaturation of visual effects, and a strive to push 40 or so plots for sequels or potential ones into a two hour movie, that’s all we have been getting as of late. Sure there are a few good film’s that squeak by and go against the grain, but we haven’t seen anything as inspiring or as refreshing as Whiplash. Hit the jump for the full review.
Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a first-year jazz musician as a prestigious school of arts who is striving to be the best. One night while practicing he is seen by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), one of the schools top jazz instructors. Fletcher can best be described as a curmudgeon who doesn’t easily impress, and strives for absolute perfection. If you don’t achieve any of that, then consider yourself an alternate player in his jazz band. Fletcher isn’t afraid to show just how authoritative he is by belittling his students or throwing objects at their heads. Neyman is eager to impress Fletcher, but he is also one who doesn’t settle for “good job,” as he would insult his siblings for being in Division III football or going as far as to bleed for Fletcher.
There is a lot to be said about Whiplash in its search for perfection, as can be seen by the characters. Fletcher commands his band like a troop, and doesn’t take a slight mistep or miscount lightly. He pushes his students to the brink of a psychological break down, and proves that if you don’t have what it takes, then you don’t deserve to be a part of his band. But Andrew won’t let Fletcher’s scare tactics or ruthless authority push him out of his class, instead, Fletcher’s rage is his motivation, his fuel, and maybe his inspiration.
While 2014 has been a year full of sequels, prequels, and average films, a lot of them don’t leave as much of an impact as Whiplash. Chazelle’s second directorial effort leaves audiences asking how far we would go for perfection or do we just settle for “good job?” It’s hard really. As far as we know Fletcher is indeed the kind of teacher you would want if the idea was to make yourself better at your talent, but his methods are questionable, but they do get results. But are the results worth the risk or psychological damage?
Surprisingly enough, Simmon’s portrayal of Fletcher is said to be soft. Chazelle has taken the film on multiple film festival tours, and for some of the students who are like Andrew who have seen the film, they have said Fletcher isn’t even compared to some of the instructors they had to deal with.
Perhaps that is what makes this film so genuinely great, it is that strive for perfection, and how even though it is completely relatable, it doesn’t even come close to how ruthless people can be. Which makes Simmons the perfect person to play the role of Fletcher. Simmons’ career has great range, from playing a Nazi in Oz, to a psychologist in Law and Order, to the wacky Editor-In-Chief in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, but for Whiplash, Simmons doesn’t hold anything back, in fact it almost looks like he is trying to push himself for Fletcher to more abusive and manipulative with every scene.
If you think Teller is that same drunk guy from 21 and Over, then you’d be wrong. He gave an absolute wonderful performance in The Spectacular Now, and I can’t wait to see what he does in Fantastic Four, but in Whiplash, he doesn’t settle for the “good job.” Since the film took only 19 days to shoot, the untrained drummer had to time to get into the groove. But that is what works. Andrew is a fresh student, first year, who hasn’t scratched the surface of what it is like to play in an ensemble. So as we see Andrew grow, we also see Teller grow. Andrew won’t settle for just doing an okay job, and goes as far as walking out of a car crash just to make it on time for his performance. Hobbled, bloody, and in desperate need of medical help, Andrew arrogantly powers through it, but doesn’t give the inspired performance Fletcher demands.
And so we circle back to, “how much do we push ourselves to be the best and not settle for less?”
I really can’t imagine what was going through Chazelle, Teller, and Simmon’s heads for those last twenty minutes. But whatever it was, it turned out to be one of the most inspiring things to watch on the big screen. The energy put into that scene by Teller and Simmons is a sight to behold.
Sure there are some subplots that are needlessly added into the film to keep audiences engaged, but those last twenty minutes make up for all of that, as they are exhilarating twenty minutes you will ever see. Let’s just hope with all the positive buzz surrounding the film, as well as the great reception it as been getting at film festivals, that no one forgets about Whiplash‘s greatness.