My music tastes are pretty eclectic. I like a bit of everything but a bit more of metal. Jazz however is low on the list and big band jazz even less.
So remind me again why am I going to see Whiplash?! Well, it’s down to two things. One is that it is drum based and drums fascinate me. I can’t play them for toffee, but love seeing people who can. Secondly, it’s been tagged Full Metal Jacket meets drums. So now I’m interested.
The story follows a young musician and a maniacal teacher with the most outrageous teaching methods at a high-end music college.
We first see Andrew (Miles Teller) practicing drums alone in the Shaffer Conservatory of Music. Hearing a sound he stops, looks up and we get to see the infamous teacher himself. Terrance Fletcher, (J.K. Simmons) then asks him why did he stop. This prompts Andrew to continue playing, which is met by our first insight to Fletcher’s mindset when he retorts with “I asked you why you stopped and then proceeded to play like a wind up monkey.”
We see Fletcher use much nicer words later in the film in a couple of scenes (yeah that’s about it), but it’s a gentle subtle introduction to the grand master teacher, as later you get to see him in full bore Full Metal Jacket insult mode.
Fletcher’s belief is fear and intimidation is key to getting the most out of his band members. Shouting and chairs flung at his band when they make a mistake is par for the course. However, playing in Fletcher’s class comes a pathway to greatness such is his influence in the music industry.
Our real introduction to Fetcher comes when we hear the band play for the first time and someone’s instrument is out of tune. Your really not prepared for what follows as we see the enraged teacher work his way through band increasing his anger as no-one owns up. Utterly enraged, full bore shouting; nose-to-nose with each student has you flabbergasted. This really is like the lineout in Full Metal Jacket and Sgt Hartman introducing himself to Private Pyle.
After he finds the culprit and sends them packing (after a great Mars Bar joke), your left open jawed at the expletives Fetcher has just unloaded on his own students. Wow.
Having been handpicked, we assume Andrew on his first day might be excused from such behavior. No. Not even slightly. Crying it seems creates even more abuse. Each time Andrew plays, Fletcher comes forth with “Not quite my tempo” and the tension increases each and every time those words are uttered. From now on, I will forever try and work that saying in whenever the need arises!
As a viewer you are as shocked and stunned silent as much as the other band members looking on and just like them, relieved you’re not the target.
While the film doesn’t quite fully advocate Fletchers’ teaching methods, you get to see how much it drives Andrew to play out of his skin, quite literally until it bleeds as he tries to emulate some of his (real life) drum idols, one of which being Buddy Rich.
As the film progresses we follow Andrew as he practices all hours and Fletcher doing whatever it takes to get the best out of his core drummer. This culminates is a simply incredible last scene. Instead of your jaw dropping from the abuse, it’s dropped with awe as Andrew drums for his life. I damn near jumped up punching the air.
What’s more incredible is that Miles Teller is a self taught drummer and all the drumming is for real. However, he played as a rock drummer and as he found out, jazz drumming is a whole new ball game which involved weeks and weeks of teaching and practising.
It’s a fascinating film, loosing based director’s Damien Chalelle music school experience, isn’t perfect. Beyond the shouting there isn’t a much else to the film apart from a great “family meal” which has football playing sons taking centre stage, with drumming being seen as rather laughable by the football son’s parents. You only wish is to put them in front of Fletcher for some abuse.
But you are drawn into Fletchers’ performance and of course Andrew’s drumming skills. J.K. Simmons is just fantastic and given the outrageous abuse he gives face to face with his students must take a lot more skill than it looks. It feels so real, not at all just put on for show. He is very consistent in his role and while you might not think it is the right way of teacher, you totally believe he does not think there is any other way.
Reviewed by invisiblekid