Whiplash is a psychologically-exhausting film, and while it’s extremely effective, I’m not so sure it deserves all the hype.
The story of 19-year-old Andrew Neyman, Whiplash centers on the young jazz drummer’s complicated relationship with Terence Fletcher, his terrifying music instructor. This dynamic is the heart of the film, but unfortunately the script never rises beyond this well-worn trope. Much like American Sniper, this is an exceptionally well-made film, but you’ve seen it all before (a feeling I did not have with the rest of this year’s Oscar films).
That’s not to say Whiplash isn’t worth watching. In fact, the film contains a tremendously compelling performance by J.K. Simmons as the above mentioned teacher. While Miles Teller does a good-enough job as Andrew, Simmons is intimidating right from the film’s opening frames. It’s a powerful turn that gradually intensifies every time Fletcher implodes at one of his students, traumatizing them (and us) in the process. Simmons’ performance is simply bone-chilling, and I found myself completely riveted every time he was on screen. A warning though: his methods are extreme, and they could very well give you an anxiety attack in the process. I certainly got uncomfortable at certain moments as I watched his harrowing treatment of poor Andrew unfold.
Visually, Whiplash is a treat. Under Damien Chazelle’s direction and Sharone Meir’s skillful framing, this is a beautiful film. The various musical sequences are gorgeously shot, carefully capturing the intensity of the music and the various peaks and lows. The use of extreme close-ups really immerses you in every note, and I certainly ending up leaving the film with an even bigger appreciation for music than I had before.
But, I can’t shake the feeling that the film felt painfully redundant, and I wasn’t nearly as intrigued by the time it came to a close. I had simply lost interest, and in the wonderful world of film… that’s never a good thing.
Although I appreciate the subject matter and the phenomenal performance at its center, Whiplash isn’t nearly as impressive as I would have liked.