Front Row at the Movies
"Whiplash" Delivers Jazzy Mentor-Mentee Bash
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
We like being a fly on the wall. While we may not like intense face-to-face confrontations, observing them can be fascinating. Power struggles are much easier to take when you’re not the one being domineered.
"Whiplash" gives us a terrific (in both senses of the word) drama, the relationship between a prodigy jazz drummer and his overbearing teacher. It’s a talky movie in the sense of "The Lion In Winter" or "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf" … but it manages to be something of a thriller too.
Here we meet Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) who falls under the influence of legendary Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the music maestro at prestigious Manhattan conservatory. At their first encounter, Fletcher is dismissive, making the boy think he’s missed his one chance to impress the teacher. But no so. Fletcher’s style is abusive mind games, pushing his students beyond their seeming ability.
To make its point, the movie uses the apocryphal story of Jo Jones throwing a cymbal at Charlie Parker’s head one night when he messed up, the violent act pushing him to the breaking point at which he became Bird.
Director Damien Chazelle ("Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench") uses this metaphor to pose the question of how far a teacher should go to unleash the greatness in a student. Without the violence of that cymbal, would Charlie Parker have gone on to make music history? Did it take more than the threat of failure to get through to him?
Fletcher throws furniture, calls his students names, brutally challenges them. He physically tortures Andrew, forcing him to repeat drum solos until his hands bleed. He drives his students. He believes that the too most discouraging words you can say to a student is "Good job."
Is he a monster … or a mentor?
"Whiplash" is still playing at the Tropic Cinema.
Not-quite-30--year-old Damien Chazelle is a writer-turned-turned director who has a thing for music, particularly jazz. His first movie, "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench," was about a jazz trumpeter in search of a more outgoing lover. He wrote the screenplay for "Grand Piano." And he’s currently directing a film he wrote called "La La Land," the story of a jazz pianist (Miles Teller again) who falls for a young actress (Emma Watson) in Los Angeles.
"Whiplash" actually started off as a short film with J.K. Simons ("Juno," TV’s "The Closer") as a band teacher, before he remade it into a feature film.
There is an old saying that a mentor must eventually kill off his mentee when he’s no longer a pupil, but a threat. Or vice versa.
Here we get to be a fly on the wall.