Thursday, October 30, 2014
Playing for Keeps
The best film I have seen all year is finally opening today (in my dear ol’ Miami).
I’m talking about Whiplash.
Starring Miles Teller (Divergent, The Spectacular Now) – in a career-defining turn – as Andrew, a drummer attending the elite Shaffer Conservatory of Music in New York City (a fictional stand-in for the oh-so-real Juilliard), the Sundance- and Deauville-approved film chronicles the fall-to-summer story of the like, S&M-esque relationship that develops between Teller’s young upstart and Terence Fletcher, the merciless prof, played by a deservedly buzz-worthy J.K. Simmons, who pushes him (and then some) to the brink of greatness.
Written and energetically directed by Damien Chazelle, who adapted the screenplay from his showed-at-Sundance-in-2013 short, this is – drumroll, please – definitely a must-see.
Teller, like I said before, gives the performance of his budding career. His Andrew is a soulful fella who wants nothing more than to become the next Buddy Rich. He is the roughest of diamonds at Shaffer, a school that, he feels, is full of all these peers that don’t get him and that he admittedly doesn’t necessarily get, either. He’s got this cockiness to him, but at the same time he’s still just so green.
One day, he catches the eye, well...the ear of Simmons’ Fletcher, a sunovabitch with a penchant for all-black outfits (he prefers tight muscle Ts), a good pork pie hat, and a well-versed repertoire of insults at the ready to bestow upon students. Immediately, it becomes clear that Fletcher sees something in Andrew – and that he ain’t about to coddle his talent to the fore.
So he cuts him to pieces.
Whiplash is all that all the time. And it is intensely watchable.
Fletcher challenges Andrew in ways he probably never was. Nay, in ways he knows he never was.
After Andrew makes the mistake of sharing too much about his background – his dad, played by Paul Reiser, teaches...high school, not college; his mother walked out on ’em when Andrew was a kid – Fletcher uses that info as a weapon. He turns this revelation of a most deeply personal nature into this offensive tool that he wholeheartedly believes helps him squeeze brilliance outta his students.
It is cruel. It is the opposite of pedagogical. And, in the capable hands of Simmons, it is what fuels the plot the film with a force that is to be reckoned with, alright.
Chazelle pits Teller against Simmons in a jazzy conflict of the first order, a battle of the wills that rises to a crescendo and boils over in a most spectacular fashion. There is a reason why the film was described as Full Metal Jacket-meets-Juilliard when it was just getting off the ground, and that’s the Andrew-Fletcher dynamic.
In the end, they are both broken. They break each other. Their ultimate redemption, in each other’s eyes, is as surprising as it is well-earned, not to mention, quite probably, the most brutal, and therefore honest, of 2014.
Run, don’t walk to see Whiplash. It is a blast.
My Rating ****
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics.