Sunday, August 16, 2015

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Whiplash

2014, Damien Chazelle -- netflix

In the midst of all the drek and pop culture I have been watching, I needed something I knew to be good, something unexpected, something unlike my usual fare. It wasn't the buzz, which I hadn't heard at all, it wasn't the director or writer. It was JK Simmons a little bit but mostly it was Graig's review. Like him, I have no interest in jazz drumming, or better said, I have so little interest, a movie about it could not attract me. But an intense movie about a mental conflict between two strong personalities is possibly in my wheelhouse.  It was. But not entirely so.

We love JK Simmons, from his creepy intense leader of the aryan brotherhood in Oz to his intelligent and friendly doctor in Law & Order. Hell, we even like him in those stupid insurance commercials. And he made a decent J Jonah Jameson. Intensity seems to be something people expect from him, and here we get it in spades. He plays Terence Fletcher, a renowned conductor and instructor at the Shaffer Conservatory in NYC. Miles Teller is Andrew, a promising first year student who Fletcher catches practicing. Despite Fletcher's fearsome reputation, he takes a liking to Andrew and brings him into the fold of his own jazz band and class. To say things are intense between the two is understating it by a thousand fold.

Fletcher is an ass, an abusive, horrible excuse for a human being but excused by the school because he creates such brilliance. Or so the setup leads us to believe. I don't believe we are given any examples. Andrew wants to be the next Buddy Rich, and Fletcher sees it in him, but only if he completely breaks the kid down and rebuilds him in his own image. For his own part, Andrew is also a bit of an ass, dismissive of his ever faithful father and even dumps a cute girl so he can practice until his hands bleed. Does Andrew become the beloved disciple of the harsh but brilliant instructor? No, he breaks. Horribly.

This move does assume a certain amount of understanding and fondness for jazz in the viewer. I found the music all about skill and little about heart. I also could not subscribe to this very American ideal of being the next example of perfection, above everything else. Its something I have an issue with, of late. What is wrong with "merely" being good? Why be the best of the best? There has to be a place in the world for mediocrity. But the acting, there is nothing mediocre in the acting. I could watch JK Simmons scream at people for an hour & a half.  Teller, who I am not that fond of in general, is damn good as Andrew, really playing off Simmons for the entire movie. Go watch, you will not regret.