As every movie fan knows it is Oscar season, meaning a lot of the films shown in the UK at the moment are most likely up for a lot of gongs (eg Foxcatcher, Selma and The Theory Of Everything). A lot of commentators of the awards are pretty hazy on predicting winners of each category, with the exception of one category – Best Supporting Actor, which most critics and film journalists have predicted JK Simmons to win for his role in Whiplash.
When there is an inspirational film about musicians, we usually know which direction it’s going to go in, but Whiplash is not only about a drummer, a student jazz drummer; not necessarily a typical film maker’s first choice of subject. Miles Teller stars as Andrew Neiman, the aforementioned drummer, who joins an elitist music school and wants to grab the attention of notorious tutor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons). As Neiman finds out, this isn’t as easy as counting to four and belting out a great solo.
Simmons portrays Fletcher as the most difficult to please band-leader to walk the Earth. Imagine Simon Cowell combined with that PE teacher who never cut you any slack, a thousand times worse. In fact that’s slightly under-selling the character. This is a classic career defining role we won’t forget in a flash. Fletcher is probably someone you wouldn’t like to meet, but certainly someone you can’t stop watching in a similar to DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in Wolf Of Wall Street. Throughout the movie we keep wondering why Fletcher is the way he is. We get hints here and there but nothing clear cut, but by the end we totally see why his teaching techniques are so off-the-wall.
Teller as Reiman isn’t too pleasant either as the protagonist – he has no friends, he goes to the cinema with his dad, he dumps a girl for his music – this guy is a complete loser. Yet compared to the harsh drill sergeant that is Fletcher, we feel sympathy for the underdog. This is one of the few gripes I have with this film. The lead character isn’t the most likeable. Fletcher could be named as the villain and he is more likeable. Miles Teller is known for teen comedies such as Project X, so this is a bit of a change of pace for the young actor.
I can see Whiplash slowly becoming a cult classic over the years for music lovers and cinema buffs. If not for the compelling character of Fletcher, but for the positive message to always push yourself to the maximum and always take criticisms as reasons to try harder. People will be quoting “not quite my tempo” in board meetings for years to come and “are you rushing or dragging?” at sporting events. Little things like this extend the shelf life of a film.
A few negative points of the film are the mixed messages this film demonstrates – must you be a horrid bully to get a good result from a musician or student? Is becoming the best drummer at the age of 19 really worth sacrificing friendships and those around you? This is a motivational movie if nothing else, and there’s no doubt it will be shown in music and film classrooms as a way showing students why tutors must criticise to get the best from them.
It’s true that JK Simmons will probably walk away with an Oscar, and the soundtrack may also get some recognition at the Oscars. But, I think if it wasn’t Oscar season, Whiplash would have had its hay-day on DVD/ Blu-Ray.