Hollywood has created an unfortunate stereotype when it comes to music films. If we’re not introduced to the biography of a vocalist or that of a fictional rock band, we get cookie cutter musicals, or quality adaptations of Broadway hits. No matter how good they may be, they have a tendency to fall into a certain stereotype, one that usually involves an insane amount of soundtrack heavy cinema.
“Whiplash” breaks the mold of music films, choosing to take on two very unorthodox concepts: first, a fictional story; second, an underrated instrument: the drums. If Ringo Starr’s story is not enough to convince you of just how underrated drummers are, then perhaps this story will.
Miles Teller is Andrew Neyman, a seemingly weird yet incredibly talented drummer who attends a fictional music conservatory in New York. Shaffer is said to be the best in the world, and so is Mr. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a no holds barred jazz conductor who brings together bad tempers and black shirts in one very smooth (you know I’m talking about his head) package.
The astute film viewer might point out a number of the film’s themes, naming everything from family issues to abandonment as points to ponder. Yet it’s really Neyman’s quest for excellence that stands out as a primary concept. Peter Travers says it best, posing the question: “How much of what makes you human will you sacrifice for a desire to truly excel?”.
The movie’s central theme is one that can relate not just to music, but to anything and everything in life. Simmons’s character argues that the absence of excellence is due to the world’s sudden tendency to baby everyone, and that his methods, albeit harsh, were practiced out of a desire to produce a musician as excellent as legendary jazz drummer Charlie Parker (a figure mentioned frequently in the movie).
Everyone lauds JK Simmons in this movie, but what we don’t realize is that without Miles Teller, Simmons would not have been able to deliver such a strong performance. In other words, their chemistry is electric. The film does a pretty nice job of somehow highlighting both actors, bathing other the players in a much darker light so as not to draw attention away from the film’s leads.
So he didn’t cross dress or gain an exorbitant amount of pounds, but the least Miles Teller could have deserved was a nomination for the intensity he brought to the role. He didn’t hand-sync his way to the drums, he could actually play them. Perhaps it was his stoic portrayal that turned critics off. But then, could overdramatizing Neyman have made things much worse? Perhaps.
The anti-music film has come to life in Whiplash, a movie bathed in city light shades yet rife with themes that transcend the world of jazz music. Simmons and Teller work hand in hand to bring to life a story that is relatable on so many levels, yet manages to shine in it’s chosen environment: the cutthroat music world.
Whiplash is perfect for anyone: the music fan, the jazz fan, the drummer, or the aimless twentysomething looking for some much-needed motivation.