LFF: Whiplash

Sometimes films arrive at a festival on the back of such admiration and acclaim that seeing them (and reviewing them) seems almost unnecessary. That’s the case this year with films like Birdman and Whiplash. Now, I haven’t seen the former, so reviewing it would be presumptuous, but I did see the latter yesterday, and because the internet is FREE and MASSIVE, I’m going to add my review to the ocean of Whiplash feedback available. Whiplash follows Miles Teller’s Andrew, a young drummer at the Shaffer conservatory in New York, as he joins a jazz band led by the black clad and bulging Terence Fletcher, played by JK Simmons. At its heart, the film follows Andrew’s attempts to hone his craft whilst battling with the question of whether true genius is natural talent, or whether it can be taught through practice and HARD HARD WORK.

The film is interested in two things: jazz music, and the relationship between Andrew and Fletcher. In the context of the film, these things are equally explosive – if you can imagine having a mentor who treats you like the skin of a drum, then you understand where writer/director Damien Chazelle is getting his IMAGERY from. If you think that jazz is all smooth and loungey, then the film disabuses you of that notion. I have no real interest in jazz music, but Chazelle puts us inside the drum kit and BATTERS you to the extent that the rhythm and energy, which infects the whole film, makes the music work, even if its not a genre that you’re naturally inclined towards. There’s a moment, late in the second act, where the film’s sense of percussion becomes momentarily shocking, before being overwhelmed by its own momentum. What I’m trying to say is that the film is one big drum solo (and also has one big drum solo).

Teller is very good as the film’s central character, in a physically demanding role. I’ve been impressed with Teller in a few things now which raises the question of WHY THE HELL he continues to do crap like Project X and That Awkward Moment. Clearly he’s an actor with enormous amount of dedication to his craft (see Footloose for further details) so hopefully his agent will take him seriously now. JK Simmons, meanwhile, is a shoe-in for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, for a turn that is explosively funny, scary and reminds you of all the reasons you’ll never be a genius. His face looks more and more like a shaded pencil sketch of JK Simmons’ face, and there’s something almost otherworldly about that body shape and the timbre of a voice so dry you can feel the sweat sizzling on Teller’s face. Their relationship is so dynamic and involving that it, at times, overwhelms the logic of the film – but this is a darkly-comic fantasy about obsession, and its failure to acknowledge a bigger picture is also one of its greatest strengths (see the abortive romantic sub-plot with Glee‘s Melissa Benoist). Whiplash is a thing of single-minded beauty, and one of the most riotously compelling cinematic experiences of the year.

Teller and Simmons excel in this fascinating study of obsessive, disruptive desire. Bravura. 

whiplashposter
4.5
Title: Whiplash
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, JK Simmons, Melissa Benoist
Running time: Couple of hours
Certificate: 15

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