Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons Bang Out A Stunner With Impressive Turns In Whiplash.
Director: Damien Chazelle.
Writer: Damien Chazelle.
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist.
Playing at: The Magnolia and Angelika Film Center (Plano).
Know this: Whiplash is the film that will make Miles Teller an all-out movie star.
At the young age of 26, Teller's only starred in eight films, but he's already basically The Man, having used the majority of those efforts to blow away critics, fans and movie lovers everywhere with his charismatic and smooth delivery. He's naturally approachable and impossibly cool, and, just last year, he carved his place in Hollywood with an incredible performance in the teenage romance flick The Spectacular Now.
But he's more than just some fresh-faced teenybopper: When the role demands it, Teller has shown the world that he can project maturity with fresh, vibrant sincerity. And in Damien Chazelle’s second feature, the wildly entertaining Whiplash, Teller flashes not only that ability, but also a fierce determination.
Whiplash follows Andrew Neyman (Teller), a freshman in college who wants to be the best jazz drummer at his East Coast music conservatory. He doesn't have any friends — by choice — and the closest he has to a social life is seeing movies with his father (played by Paul Reiser). That's all OK with him, though; playing his school's drum set after hours is what stimulates him most; he won't let anything get in his way on his path toward excellence.
So when he's finally selected as an alternate backup drummer in the school band that's led by the well-regarded but notably ruthless music conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), Andrew feels like he's right on his way. But, alas, this is no fairy tale, and our hero quickly learns that he's going to have to fight harder, bang faster and challenge the one person he admires most — Fletcher — if he wants to see his dreams come to light.
Granted, this plot is familiar territory in Hollywood, but thanks to staggering performances from Teller and Simmons, this movie ends up being anything but trite.
From the moment he shows up on screen and right up through the last frame he appears in, Simmons gives one of the most energetic — and terrifying — performances of his career. His Fletcher teaches by inflicting fear and emotional pain. Instead of finding what his students are good at, he sniffs out their weaknesses and exploits them. To him, this form of teaching will filter out the worst of the best.
And, yes, it works — especially on film. I can’t remember the last time a film pushed its actors so far mentally as well as physically, but Whiplash brings the pain as our two leads bang out their differences through intimidation, sweat and blood.
It's very much the ensuing war between our two leads that makes this film so compelling. But what's truly remarkable about it is that, aside from Simmons' machine-gun spray of expletives (and a few chairs) flung at his students, there's really not much dialogue exchanged — and not a single punch is thrown. Still, these two spill blood (literally, even) with what they are good at. Neyman beats the drums as hard as he can, and Fletcher screams in Neyman’s face that he's not playing them well enough. It's a ferocious path these two embark upon, and one that can only bring things one of two ways: bad or worse. They both want the same thing, of course, but when their interactions feel akin to a tornado passing over an active volcano, there's bound to be some wreckage left in the wake.
But, man, is it worth all that effort: Whiplash brilliantly tells a story of determination, loss, pain and following your heart no matter how poisonous that decision can sometimes be.
It's an emotionally draining and spiritually challenging watch, for sure. But, in the end, it's one that's well worth every beating.
An earlier version of this review first ran on ChaseWhale.com. Whiplash opens Friday, October 31, at the Magnolia and Angelika Theater Center (Plano).