So, after this, I’ve decided that any complaint I may have had about any of my teachers ever was mostly likely frivolous bullcrap.
Seriously, this was rough to watch.
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Produced by: Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, Michel Litvak, David Lancaster
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell
Music by: Justin Hurwitz
Plot: Nineteen-year-old Andrew Neiman has a pretty sweet life. A very talented jazz drummer attending the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory music school, Andrew is currently serving as an alternate (See: backup, essentially), being a first year student, and all. This all changes, however, when Andrew is recruited to the Conservatory’s studio band by acclaimed conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). A promotion! Fantastic! All’s good in Neiman-land, right?
Oh boy is it ever not.
While few would hesitate to call Fletcher a dedicated teacher, he is also, in scientific terms, a complete and total asshole. I’ve had teachers swear in class before, but nothing compares to Fletcher’s antics. He screams profanities at his students, berates them viciously for what are really minor mistakes, and even physically abuses them in order to get the best results out of them.
By the way, the way you’re imagining a scene like that playing out in your head? Complete bullshit. I assure you, it’s at least fifty times worse than that. J.K. Simmons as this Fletcher dude is absolutely terrifying. Every single time he appears in a scene, he is accompanied by this super-palpable aura of dread. You can absolutely feel and understand the terror the students feel whenever he appears. And yeah, obviously, this mostly has to do with J.K. Simmon’s masterful performance, but I feel that a lot of it can be credited to Damien Chazelle’s direction, and how he made sure to capture the terrified expressions of the students, and not just the eerily unforgettable presence of a bald Simmons in a tight black shirt, with every vein in his head bulging out to the point that you would worry about him getting a coronary if he wasn’t such a total dick.
Also, for the record, this movie has some great music. I know, shocking that a great movie about jazz music would have some great music, but there you have it. Also, kudos to the sound people on this movie for making this music sound so good in the first place.
More credit needs to be heaped upon second-time director Damien Chazelle for his role in this movie, not just as a director, which is a job he clearly excels at (The one action scene in this movie actually got me to exclaim out loud in shock, something I actively try to avoid in non-comedies. Also, that last scene. Holy crap, you guys!!!), but also as a screenwriter. This dude can write characters and dialogue like nobody’s business. The bizarre decision by the Academy to classify Whiplash as an adapted screenplay for reasons I couldn’t care less about could wind up benefiting it, as it no longer has to go up against Birdman (Still my favourite movie of 2014) but instead has to contend with The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, which are not bad movies by any stretch of the imagination, don’t get me wrong, but they’re definitely easier competition. I dunno, if I was Chazelle, I would be feeling pretty okay about my chances.
If y’all will allow me though, I’d like to double back to the character of Terence Fletcher, if only because I will keep sucking up to J.K. Simmons until I completely devolve into a blubbering fool. See, while it’s super easy to get sucked into the pure dicketry of the character, the movie does a good job of portraying him as both a ravenous beast of a man, and as, you know, an actual human being who genuinely believes that he is doing the right thing for these kids by psychologically damaging and abusing them in the hopes that he can push them to their full potential, even if it means crossing several lines that even the biggest hardass of a music teacher wouldn’t dare approach, even. Look, I’m not saying I agree with the guy when he does eventually rationalize his actions, I’m just saying you can’t completely disregard his practices as the demented practices of a raving madman. There is supposedly a method to the madness, and if you can momentarily cast a blind eye to the obvious, plentiful drawbacks that this kind of thinking leads to, you can kinda see a method to the madness.
I mean, if you actually emulate him, you’re still a goddamn sociopath. I think that should be clear enough.
With all the much-deserved praise being heaped upon J.K. Simmons, one tends to forget that he is not, in fact, the lead actor of this movie. That would be Miles Teller, an actor who, I must admit, I wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of before seeing this movie. Project X is a terrible movie, 21 & Over isn’t much better, That Awkward Moment doesn’t look good at all and I still haven’t seen The Spectacular Now. So, when people started praising this movie and, by association, him, I was somewhat skeptical, and who could blame me? He was in Project Fucking X.
So imagine my surprise when he turned out to be one of the best parts of the movie. Miles Teller absolutely kills it in a performance that, much like his co-star’s performance, needs to be seen firsthand in order to properly do it justice. I, personally, would have expected a lot more Oscar consideration for him, if not a nomination. I also heard that he did all his own drum parts. No idea if that’s true, but if so, that’s pretty damn amazing.
Overall: This movie excels in just about every possible way, and is an absolute blast to watch, easily one of the five best movies of 2014.
You’re welcome for that mental image.