This obscure unknown movie made quite the splash at the 2014 Oscars being nominated across the board for a number of awards including Best Picture. While getting a huge promotion boost with the Oscars (and various other awards) it still only managed to pull in $13M at the box office, which isn’t a huge amount but against a $3M budget, kept the bean counters very happy.
The movie centers around an upcoming drummer, at music school, against a teacher who simply bullies him into playing more and more. There really is nothing more than that.
If you look up the word pretentious you discover: “
Claiming or demanding a position of distinction or merit, especially when unjustified”. Or if you wish to shorten that then just say Whiplash.
J.K. Simmons plays the hard assed music teacher who is hell bent on making everyone’s lives hell. Preparing for this role must have been fairly straight forward as he has lifted every, now parodied, move from the classic actor R. Lee Ermey as General Hartman in Full Metal Jacket.
The difference here is that General Hartman is training men for war. There is a huge amount of method in his madness. However, Whiplash, is a jazz song. A frigging piece of music! No tune is worth blood pouring from your fingers as you drum too hard or being slapped by your teacher. Ridiculous.
But it gets worse/better depending on which position you take on whether this is a masterpiece or not.
Miles Teller is the student who is putting up with this nonsense. He believes this is the only way he can be great and become famous (hasn’t he heard of YouTube?). Teller, who looks spookily like a young John Cusack, is in a continual dazed state as he moves from scene to scene.
Let us keep this in context. It’s music. Period. No lives are being lost. No countries are going to fall. Yet, when Teller is involved in a very nasty car crash that crushes his car, he still gets out and wobbles, bleeding, and still runs to a music competition that he will muscle his way onto the band to play the drums.
He’s leaving the scene of an accident for a start. He is also covered in blood, in addition to his head streaming blood, and NOT ONE person asks him if he is okay or should go to a hospital. Really?
There is zero heroism or even admiration in this act. Completely stupid. We have to keep going back to the original goal .. to play drums at a competition! Who cares!
That is the problem for me with this movie. I have absolutely no sympathy or desire for the student to gain his dream. I am not invested in his outcome and when I see the lengths he will put himself through, I can’t help but wonder if he is perusing the right dream. If you are that single minded then refocus that to something may indeed save lives.
J.K. Simmons without a doubt played this role extremely removed from his usual characters he puts on. You kept waiting for a witty remark or comment, but none came. He played General Hartman perfectly.
At a 107 minutes, if you watch the first 10 minutes, then come in for the last 10 minutes, then you will have missed nothing but saved 87 minutes of your life.
The original movie started off as a short film shown at the Sundance festival. It should have stayed short.
Saturday, 5th September 2015