Whiplash (2014)
December 14, 2014 1:17 PM - Subscribe

A promising young drummer enrolls at a cutthroat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student's potential.

It was written and directed by relative newcomer Damien Chazelle (writer, Grand Piano). It won the Audience and Grand Jury prizes for drama at Sundance.

Rotten Tomatoes
Clip: Rushing or Dragging
Interview with JK Simmons (37 mins)
posted by starman (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's not too often any more that a movie leaves me stunned in my seat. Up until the last 10 minutes, I wasn't even sure what I thought about the movie. But the ending hits you with a flurry of punches that you don't see coming.
I thought Teller and Simmons were perfect and had loads of chemistry.
The script was extremely compelling -- I appreciate very much that it is an original story and avoids a lot of clichés.
If I were to nit-pick I would say I don't agree with all the directing choices, but since the movie is so good overall I am quite forgiving. I can get into more detail about what I mean but I'd like to hear other people's reactions.
posted by starman at 1:30 PM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Was really impressed by the ending, and how true Fletcher was to his character at the end. I found it incredibly tense, with my stomach churning for the entire film.

It did seem somewhat uneven, but I enjoyed that (to me, at least) it was not wholly the formulaic mentor-protege story I had expected.

Teller was kind of wooden, but sure looked like he could rock that drum kit. Simmons was terrific, but also one-dimensional, really. I wouldn't describe this movie as having considerable depth, but I suspect I'll be thinking about it for quite a while.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:41 PM on December 14, 2014

IMDB has at an 8.8, which I think is their highest rated film this year. Whew, what a solid film, and a great ending. It's sort of School of Rock if the teacher was the biggest asshole ever. Like Patton or Captain Bligh or the Drill Sgt from Full Metal Jacket level asshole. (I actually had to hush my girlfriend who complained that no teacher would be that bad by whispering to her that if he wasn't that bad, we'd have no film.) JK Simmons punches you in the gut every time he's on screen.

I was stunned to find that it's directed by a relative newcomer, who wrote the recent Grand Piano (which is an excellent Brian De Palma homage.) And Whiplash only had a 3.3 million dollar budget, too! I also love the double entendre of the title. It's both the name of a jazz standard and how the teacher is lashing the whip at his students.

I did note a few interesting choices in the direction, Starman, but nothing distracting considering it's a first time director. It gets high marks on story, sound and editing from me. I hope that when Oscar season hits they make like James Brown and give the drummer some.
posted by Catblack at 9:34 PM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

If Simmons doesn't get the Oscar I'll eat my drum kit
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:52 AM on January 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some disparate thoughts:

- That drum-heavy soundtrack in the first act with the camera following Andrew around from about two feet behind his head reminded me A LOT of the way much of Birdman was shot.

- While I do sort of wish that some of the other characters were fleshed out at all, even just a little, I can appreciate how the script is structured around making Andrew this film's 'Bird'. At least Fletcher gets the one dimension, even if it's just the simple flat arc of a cymbal being hurled across a room, a stage, a career, a life.

- Absolutely loved how Whiplash told the Bird story in its own terms. I thought, and Fletcher thought, that he'd been throwing that cymbal at Andrew the whole time they were at the school together. He really intended to ruin Andrew's reputation and career in music on that stage. He wasn't giving Andrew anything except what he thought was an ending. Which, of course, is a perfect cymbal shot that Andrew dodged and came back from even quicker than Bird could in the old story. 'Whiplash'-quick, as he became Drum Bird.
posted by carsonb at 10:33 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

That interview with JK Simmons is great. He clearly knows the interviewer and is comfortable to begin with, enough so that by the end of the interview when they're discussing Careers—Capital C— and Recognition, and Awards and things he's grinning like a madman and doing everything he can not to say he wants this one.

Anyway, he deserves it in my opinion.

So he probably won't get it. I have no faith in the Academy anymore.<small>sigh</small>
posted by carsonb at 11:34 AM on January 29, 2015

I just saw this last night and it stuck with me.

I don't know how I feel about the ending. I was happy when he went back onstage and killed everything, gets his power back, but it seems like Fletcher gets his power back, too, and that makes me unhappy.

I think when Fletcher was talking to Andrew at the bar and said that a real Birdman wouldn't be discouraged by intense discouragement, he was dead wrong. Even true artists give up or have to pay their bills or -- especially this one I'd bet -- get so depressed they can't be productive. Discouragement doesn't help there, it just kills artistry. Sometimes even artists themselves.

Anyway, great film. Still not sure about that ending, but it makes you think!
posted by onlyconnect at 3:13 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Caught this as a part of the AMC Best Picture Showcase (got lucky this year -- hadn't seen any of the first weekend's), and was very nearly blown away. I didn't like Fletcher trying to trap Nieman onstage -- that would have made him look bad too, I would think -- and the bit where he's rolling through all three drummers for five hours went a little too far when he started yelling racial/sexual epithets at them (I think he only did that when there were no black people in the room, which I thought was pretty telling), because I feel like it revealed an ugliness to the character that wasn't in line with his "I'm just trying to motivate people" shtick.

But my god, you could have shown J.K. Simmons this script at the beginning of his career and said, "Okay, we're going to make this in, like, thirty years, and we think you'll be pretty good for it at that point, so why don't you make your entire career arc point directly to this guy?"

And I will say this -- I've said several times here on MeFi, as a response to questions like "Why do people like this crap?!?", that I just don't like jazz. But this film made me at least care about jazz.
posted by Etrigan at 6:09 AM on February 15, 2015

George Hrab, from the Philadelphia Funk Authority, didn't like the movie at all. In his podcast he calls it "The worst movie I have seen in 10 years… if not more. " It's the first 30 minutes of the podcast.
posted by Pendragon at 10:52 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the link. I can see what he is saying.

There are a couple things he might have got wrong though; I'll have to watch again to verify this, but:
• At the beginning in the practice room when Fletcher says "no, double time," Andrew does play it twice as fast, right? Not just the exact same thing?
• At the end, Andrew didn't have a chart. At least I thought. That's why it was so messed up.

I didn't really read the end of the movie as a vindication of Fletcher's methods. I think it was just a way to test Andrew to see how much he really wanted it.

Hrab is right that the actions of the characters are anything but subtle and realistic. Fletcher isn't really measuring their tempo when he listens to two beats of playing. He's just egging them on. And of course in real life he would be fired.
There is a jazz movie to be made that is more nuanced. But, to me, everything about the movie is heightened. It's not reality-based. There is nothing about the end that is realistic, but at the same time, for me, the filmmaker was able to tap into a dramatic payoff that I hadn't experienced before. Which is why I really liked it.
posted by starman at 2:22 PM on April 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just got back from Ebertfest where they showed Ethan Hawke's film Seymour: An Introduction, about accomplished concert pianist Seymour Bernstein who now spends his time teaching other talented pianists.

The contrast between the teaching styles of Bernstein and Fletcher could not be more pronounced. Talking about this film at Ebertfest, Leonard Maltin called Seymour Bernstein a "bonfire of soft, lucid tenderness." Bernstein softly and encouragingly coaxes self-discovery and confidence out of his students, never raising his voice or chiding his students into embarrassment. He teaches them secrets former master teachers taught him, about how to hold their hands before striking the first note of a piece, when it's okay to ignore a composer's pianissimo (and similar) markings and how to the passages leading up to these markings, and other eclectic musical secrets.

I loved watching Mr. Bernstein as much as watching Fletcher made me squirmy and deeply uncomfortable. The movie's position that harsh, degrading teaching might pull something that other teaching can't out of talented students is flatly contradicted by Bernstein's success with his students (as well as directly in person during the Q&A following the film where Bernstein came out against the teaching style from Whiplash).

It was a great film and the audience at Ebertfest absolutely loved it, as did I. I highly recommend it to anyone who saw and enjoyed Whiplash.
posted by onlyconnect at 6:21 PM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

I wish someone had called Fletcher on claiming to know something nobody could know: What would have happened to Charlie Parker if he hadn't been humiliated in the cymbal incident. You could just as easily assert that without that kind of stress, Parker would have become an even greater musician and not drank himself to death at the age of 34.

Fletcher yells at his bands and they are successful, but he has no idea whether they are successful because he yells at him or in spite of it.

This New Yorker article runs down a bunch of things the movie doesn't seem to get right about jazz. I thought it was particularly weird that a movie about jazz had so little improvisation and was so focused around the idea of knowing the chart, whether you have it in front of you, who got it first, and being able to play it exactly.

For all that, I was still totally enthralled by Simmons and the horror of his revenge at that final concert. It's a good movie, but I don't think it's really about jazz, and uses jazz more as a mcguffin for the drill sergeant relationship that it's really about.
posted by straight at 2:43 PM on July 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

I thought it was particularly weird that a movie about jazz had so little improvisation and was so focused around the idea of knowing the chart, whether you have it in front of you, who got it first, and being able to play it exactly.

But the climax was all about improvisation. The entire point of it was that Andrew transcended Fletcher's "rushing or dragging" perfectionism.
posted by Etrigan at 4:04 PM on July 30, 2015

Well, it's a subjective thing, but that final solo doesn't seem much like jazz improvisation to me. He's not really interacting with the song or the rest of the band. It's more of an unsolicited, Hey check this out Mr. Director. Everybody else try to keep up.

The irony is that, in real life, Charlie Parker didn't get the cymbal dropped at his feet because he was rushing or not playing the chart as written. It was an attempt to get his attention because Parker was ignoring the rest of the band and just plowing ahead doing his own thing. Which is exactly what Andrew is doing at the end of the movie that is supposedly so great.
posted by straight at 7:47 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

To me the two main characters can be considered unreliable narrators, in that what they believe to be true is wrong: Fletcher doesn't need to be an abusive, manipulative asshole to get the best out of people, and Andrew doesn't need to be wholly consumed by his passion to be great. That they both think they succeeded at the end of the movie should be looked on with a lot of skepticism.
posted by cardboard at 9:56 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

So I had ignored this movie based on the "rushing or dragging" clip, cuz I've lived through a light version of that -- down to the "hunt down who's not in tune" scene -- in high school and don't need that anxiety in my life. But since I put the top 100 IMDB titles I've not seen on my queue, here I am today.

I was exactly right. Fletcher is an irredeemable high strung asshole, and the competitive music scene is antithetical to everything that is conceptually jazz. He decries positive feedback as the reason "jazz is dying" but his adherence to the meter and the score is not jazz. But it's absurd that a conservatory instructor would not get that. At best, I could see the film as a metaphor for the Kenny G controversy.

Andrew is portrayed as borderline psychopath, enduring repeated physical injury, explicitly calling kinship a weakness, and demanding a place in the pantheon of greatness. At the start of the film his father says "I don't understand you" and by the end I think he still doesn't, but the audience does: Andrew is a masochist who takes pleasure in denying himself the good parts in life. He's carefully eaten the popcorn around the good parts in life.

I also love the double entendre of the title. It's both the name of a jazz standard and how the teacher is lashing the whip at his students.

It's also a physical injury Andrew sustains in a car accident that should have killed him, and a psychic injury the audience endures at the end when Andrew and Fletcher improvise a drum-heavy second movement together after immediately each having gotten revenge on the other.
posted by pwnguin at 7:35 PM on December 29, 2023

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