Whiplash (2014)

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Written & Directed by: Damien Chazelle

I admire prodigious talent, and celebrate it, but it is not — by any stretch of the imagination — a yardstick by which I would judge anyone. I admire intellectual and artistic gifts, but I place the most value on other qualities, such as kindness, integrity, and compassion.

I live in a kinder, gentler world where our kids are gently encouraged to move past their mistakes and win trophies just for showing up.

My own children are homeschooling — among other reasons — so they can learn at their own pace, in a way that honors their emotional needs and learning styles.

One of myriad reasons I love film and fiction so much: I love delving into the minds of people whose thinking is completely different from mine.

Drummer keeps the beat or takes a beating for losing it in 'Whiplash'

Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller), the 19-year-old protagonist of Whiplash, is a gifted and intensely dedicated drummer. His talent and hard work won him admission to a prestigious music conservatory. In the hallowed halls of this haven for the musically gifted, it’s a dog eat dog world — the competition is brutal. And everyone yearns to be chosen by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the instructor entrusted with the tutelage of the Best of the Best.

Andrew wins a coveted spot in Fletcher’s band, a milieu that feels more like boot camp than band practice, and the intensity escalates. Fletcher cares for nothing but music — and pushing his students beyond their limits. Who knows if a brilliant jazz musician might emerge from his classroom? A young man, poised to set the world on fire, who would never have fulfilled his potential without Fletcher’s sharply competitive, savagely abusive guidance? The psychological cost of his approach means nothing to him.

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J.K. Simmons is one of those performers who only needs to walk on the set to make me happy. No matter what kind of role he tackles, he is wonderful. When he’s portraying a benign, avuncular character, I thoroughly enjoy it. But when he’s doing despicably, psychotically, bat crap crazy? Now that is pure, unmitigated bliss!

The style of the storytelling in this film is rather spare and highly character-driven, illuminated by excellent performances across the board, especially by the two leads. Simmons has been celebrated for his work here, and rightly so. From the moment Terence Fletcher walks onscreen, we know him. His cool, offhand arrogance when meeting a student who is painfully eager to impress him. His aggressive body language. And it just keeps getting better. However, Miles Teller is equally amazing here.

These performances are both tightly focused — keeping up with the intense pace of the film — and nuanced. This is a credit to Chazelle’s excellent writing and direction as well as the acting. We are seeing so much onscreen, in terms of character development, yet we sense that we’re only glimpsing the top of the iceberg.

When we meet Andrew, he seems shy and eager to please. As we get to know his character better, however, we see that he’s not entirely unlike Fletcher. In addition to his single-minded dedication and focus on excellence, he comes across as arrogant, lacking in empathy, and dismissive of people who haven’t yet found a passionate focus for their lives. He is not particularly likable, but he is wholly human, and we can’t help caring about him and rooting for him. I also loved Paul Reiser as Jim Neimann, whose gentle, self-effacing nature and unconditional fatherly love provide an interesting foil to Fletcher.

This is a unique, compelling, and technically beautiful film and a brilliant character study. The odd dynamic between Andrew and Fletcher is unforgettable. And the conclusion? Quite possibly the best movie ending ever!

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