By Darin Skaggs
What does it take to be great? Does it take your blood, sweat and tears? Does it take every moment of your life including sacrificing eating and sleep? Do you need to abandon the people who care about you to avoid distractions? All of this is explored in Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash.
Miles Teller plays Andrew, a young enthused jazz drummer who gets hand selected by a tough as nails teacher, Fletcher, portrayed by J.K. Simmons. Fletcher wants perfection and does whatever he feels he needs to do to get it out of his students including screaming profanity, smacking them in the face and throwing objects at them. Some students leave or just get kicked out of the class but Andrew gets sucked into his hype and falls into a life of finding pure perfection.
Whiplash, despite only being about a young man following his dreams of being an excellent drummer, is a very tense movie. J.K. Simmons gives a wonderful performance as the scariest teacher of all time. He screams and yells obscenities to all his students he almost makes for a real life super villain. And Andrew starts as not a very good guy anyway that when he becomes all in to Fletcher’s ways it is even more terrifying. Teller and Simmons have amazing chemistry as the two of them ooze stubbornness.
The film explores, quite literally, giving your blood, sweat and tears to be the best at something. It also asks is it even worth it? Andrew practices to the wee hours of the night. He breaks up with a perfectly fine girl just so he can focus on work more and seems not to care about her feelings on the matter. He wears many Band-Aids from drumming too fast. Yet Fletcher wants more, so Andrew gives more. It is clear that there is no end in sight for pleasing Fletcher. This is the only feedback that Andrew will take so it is a never ending cycle of finding perfection. Andrew even tries to still please Fletcher after a big traumatic moment, but it does not go well.
Whiplash has two of the best performances of the year. The drumming is absolutely fantastic to listen to. It gives off the vibes of an inspirational drama and immediately can shift to a horror film. It asks what it takes to be great and wonders why you would do any of it if it takes away your happiness.