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"Whiplash" Review - To Be One Of The Greats

By Evan Heins -- Eagle Staff Writer/Photography Editor


“Whiplash” is an American, independent psychological drama film and was released in 2014. It was written and directed by Damien Chazelle, and includes Miles Teller who plays Andrew Neiman, a young and upcoming jazz drummer, and J.K. Simmons, who plays Terence Fletcher, the antagonist throughout the film. 


“Whiplash” follows through the lens of Andrew, a nineteen year old student at Schaeffer Academy, a prestigious music school. Andrew throughout the film is obsessed with being one of the “greats”; one of those steps to become the best is getting into Fletcher's class. The first time Fletcher appears on screen, Andrew is working on his scales and double-time swing, Fletcher then emerges through the dark double doors and Andrew stops playing and apologizes profusely, and without saying “Hello” and asks “Why did you stop playing?”. This scene shows us all we need to know about Fletcher without even knowing his name at the beginning.

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) practices his double-time swing (Photo Used Under the Fair Use Provision of the US Copyright Code)

We see how manipulative Fletcher is when he wrongfully kicks out a band member, Mets, for not knowing he was out of tune, and it would later turn out it wasn’t Mets who was out of tune. Andrew is also a victim to Fletcher’s actions. While in a hallway Andrew is working on his tempo and timing, and Fletcher reels him in by asking him questions about his personal life, which he later uses as insults towards Andrew, when he messes up by rushing the tempo on the song of which the film is appropriately named after “Whiplash”. 


Fletcher's insults are another highlight of the film, because for a person who claims to insult others to push them to their full potential, he cuts deep. Whether that is insulting Mets about his weight, or with Andrew’s divorced parents, he does not hesitate to make someone feel so shallow and discouraged that they would want to quit and while most would, Andrew does not. 


Andrew is so determined to be the best he cuts off all people and things that might distract him from drumming, such as his girlfriend Nicole who he has had a big crush on, or moving his mattress into the room where he practices. There is nothing that stops his determination until, on the band's second competition, he gets into a car wreck that hurts his hands so badly that he is unable to play, and Fletcher kicks him off the band, then later is kicked out of Schaeffer for assaulting Fletcher. Although it seems Andrew has lost everything, his father would get in touch with a lawyer to help get Fletcher fired for his manipulative ways which lead to another student named Sean Casey to take his own life.


Andrew would find Fletcher playing a small gig in a bar and watch him play and left when the song ended, but before leaving would be stopped by Fletcher and they talked to catch up, and that’s when Fletcher finally would explain why he was so hard on them.


After their talk Fletcher would explain that in his new band that he was directing, his drum player wasn’t cutting it, this was a way for Fletcher to get back at Andrew for getting him fired from Schaeffer, when it came time for the event, Fletcher would try to embarrass Andrew by giving false security, by telling him the songs would be old familiar ones, such as “Whiplash” and “Caravan” as such this would be another lie from Fletcher. After the song “Up Swingin’”, we see Andrew walk off stage, discouraged but this time he would come back and play the greatest solo in the band, cementing his spot as one of the greats along with Fletcher finally admitting he found his own “Charlie “Bird” Parker”.


Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) shouts at Andrew Neiman (Johnny Simmons) in a scene from the short film. (Photo Used Under the Fair Use Provision of the US Copyright Code)

“Whiplash” originally started as a short film, two years before the theatrical release. In the short J.K. Simmons is seen as Fletcher, a big deal for Chazelle’s first debut short at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. With Simmons attached to the short so early into development, it wasn’t hard to get the 3.3 million dollar budget the movie had. In the short, instead of Teller playing Andrew, it was Johnny Simmons, who was most known for his small role as “Young Neil” in “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, Simmons when approached with an interview with Vanity Fair he would describe “Working with Chazelle was joyous,” he knew when the film would get the budget they needed he would not be needed, and he also would admit, “it was hard to see Teller picked over himself,”.


Simmons before getting into acting, went to the University of Montana and while attending he majored in music, which made his role casted perfectly.  


Chazelle, when asked in an interview with Roger Ebert, stated “”Whiplash” is an overwhelmingly powerful picture that defines the typical genre stereotypes of a drama or thriller…”. The film is great in the aspect that it isn’t your typical underdog story seeing Fletcher slowly kill the old Andrew we knew, and turn him into the next “Charlie ”Bird”  Parker”, as foreshadowed in a scene near the end of the movie. 


“Whiplash” and Simmons would go on to win many awards such as the BAFTA Award for Best Editing in a film in 2015 and Simmons would receive many Best Supporting Actor awards for the character of Fletcher. Whether it’s the Jazz music that makes the movie's soundtrack amazing with work from John Wasson and Justin Hurwitz, or Simmons' terrifying portrayal of Terence Fletcher, it is without a doubt the cultural impact “Whiplash” has made on Jazz and Film. 




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